India’s Kashmir policy has become a problem with the American Left, which is developing a narrative about the Narendra Modi government that is partly fallacious. Some of this was on display during the hearing on Kashmir by the United States House Foreign Relations subcommittee. The proceedings were largely symbolic, for the executive continues to dominate policy. Only 14 Congress representatives attended, eight of whom left by the second round. The State Department, reflecting the views of the Donald Trump administration, pushed back.
There are three elements of the American Left narrative, which, for the sake of the larger relationship, New Delhi would do well to address. The first is the focus on the curtailment of civil liberties. India must emphasise that despite current challenges, the government plans to restore both democracy and civil rights in Jammu and Kashmir. The best way to do so would be to release political leaders, ease communication links, and hold elections. The second element is to underplay the role of terrorism and see Kashmir in isolation. India should continue to point out the devastation caused by terrorism in the region and its global implications. The good news is that even at the hearing, the move on Article 370 was considered irreversible. The third element of the narrative is to link the Modi government with the nativist populism of Trump and other Right-wing demagogues. While there are elements of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s majoritarian political project that it must review – and it is challenged on this domestically – the party is a product of a deepening of Indian democracy. Its overwhelming electoral wins also have a lot to do with its embrace of what, in the West, would be considered a strong welfarist platform. Ignoring this creates a simplistic view of the current juncture in Indian politics.
New Delhi should make the effort because the Left of the Democratic Party is on the rise. Two of the three leading Democratic presidential candidates identify with this wing. It is likely to see increased influence after congressional elections next November. India can resist and has resisted earlier pressure from the United States. But it remains the foreign partner that can contribute the most to India’s rise. Pre-empting possible obstacles in the relationship, and sustaining bipartisan support for it, is in the interests of both countries.