A video disseminated this week by the former chief minister of the disputed New Delhi-administered Kashmir region purportedly shows an Indian Border Security Force (BSF) commander manhandling a local man for refusing to cast a vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
India kickstarted the world’s largest democratic elections on Thursday, with pollsters deeming Modi who is seeking a second term and his BJP party the frontrunners.
Critics claim the BJP intends to turn India into a Hindu state, to the detriment of religious minorities like Muslims and Christians.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s the News International and India Today noted that Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Indian-held Kashmir and the president of the region’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), shared the video of the polling station incident.
A voter at polling booth in Jammu was manhandled by the BSF because he refused to cast his vote for BJP. Using armed forces at polling stations to coerce people to vote for the BJP shows their desperation & hunger to usurp power by hook or crook. pic.twitter.com/Hmr8zocQ44
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) April 11, 2019
“A voter at polling booth in Jammu was manhandled by the BSF because he refused to cast his vote for BJP. Using armed forces at polling stations to coerce people to vote for the BJP shows their desperation & hunger to usurp power by hook or crook,” Mufti wrote on Twitter.
In 2018, the BJP abandoned its fragile alliance with Mufti’s PDP party over alleged concerns of jihadi attacks and radicalization in the region, prompting Modi’s party to take full control of the region, a move that marked the first time Hindu nationalists ruled over the predominantly Muslim region.
The man recording the video reportedly confirmed to the News that the Indian commander “manhandled” the voter. It is unclear if the alleged victim ultimately voted for the BJP.
According to the Pakistani news outlet, protesters gathered outside the polling station to rally against the BJP and the Indian troops, seen by many locals as occupiers.
New Delhi-held Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority region in India.
Critics accuse Modi’s BJP of inciting hatred against religious minorities in Hindu-majority India.
On Friday, Amid Shah, the Indian lawmaker who serves as BJP president, was accused of promoting “ethnic cleansing” by declaring that “infiltrators are like termites in the soil of Bengal” and a BJP government in West Bengal would “pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal.”
President of @BJP4India, @AmitShah, accused of advocating ethnic cleansing for saying on the campaign trail “infiltrators are like termites in the soil of Bengal” and a BJP government in West Bengal would “pick up infiltrators one by one and throw them into the Bay of Bengal.”
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) April 12, 2019
The Times of India (TOI) noted that Shah was referring to illegal immigrants in Bengal when he made the comments on the campaign trail Thursday.
Shah has vowed to scrap the article of the Indian constitution that grants special status to Indian-held Kashmir and introduce National Register for Citizens (NRC) across the country if BJP returns to power.
“It is our commitment to bring in NRC across the country to chuck out each and every infiltrator. … For us national security is supreme. We would ensure that each and every Hindu and Buddhist refugee gets citizenship of this country,” the BJP president declared, according to TOI.
“We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus, and Sikhs,” the BJP reportedly wrote on Twitter.
Modi and his BJP party have reportedly been using ongoing tensions in Kashmir that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war in February to energize their Hindu base.
An unofficial border known as the Line of Control (LOC) separates the territories in Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and India, both of which claim ownership of the entire region.
Pakistan has ceded control of some of its Kashmir lands to China while New Delhi disputes Beijing’s occupation of territories on its side of the LOC.
India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic terrorists and separatists in Kashmir. Islamabad says New Delhi is violently oppressing pro-Pakistan separatists who are fighting for independence or in favor of a merger.