The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment of favourable conditions for hyper-nationalist regimes to grow and further their aims and ambitions. India, being the world’s largest sham democracy, is a case study of how populism driven by religious fanaticism may consume the better sense of a state and turns it into a fascist regime; particularly since coming to power of NarendraModi. The Modi government has made it a priority policy objective to demonize minorities not only by patronizing the right-wing militias and vigilantes but also by diminishing their constitutional rights.

While the coronavirus indiscriminately affects the societies across the globe, the response to this pandemic in India is marred with ethno-religious exclusion and targeting. This gives RSS leaders an opportunity to thrive on social unrest and do populist politics. The heavy hand of tyranny has fallen more heavily upon the people of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) who are being denied COVID-19 testing and treatment. Measures like curfew are used as tools to subdue the dissent and journalists are interrogated for terrorism charges. The Modi government is introducing domicile laws in the IOK that would allow any individual to buy property in the disputed region and change its demography by allowing Hindu migration to the occupied territory.

BJP’s ignorance of the ground realities even amid COVID-19 environment transformed into engaging in low-intensity conflicts with Pakistan believing that it may get away with such aggressive behaviour while the rest of the world is occupied by their own domestic priorities. While recent ceasefire violations have escalated tensions along the Line of Control (LoC), the Indian military reportedly has deployed heavy artillery at a Muslim-majority village of Panzgam in Kupwara district to use it as a human shield and launch attacks against Pakistan. The unabated Indian aggression along the LoC only contributes to instability between the two nuclear-armed states. India tends to use the opportunity to up the ante by forcefully exerting its claim on the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. The international community needs to wake up to this growing Indian military aggression under the cover of COVID-19 and, instead of pacifying the fascist regime; it must urge New Delhi to observe restraint.

The maritime domain that remains relatively away from media glare offers an even favourable environment for Indian Navy to steadily continue pursuing its aggressive regional ambitions. Despite the fact that India faces exponential COVID-19 challenge, 26 personnel from India’s Western Naval Command have been tested positive for the virus, Indian Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Karambir Singh has been observed furthering his aggressive assertion to display Indian Navy’s hegemonic designs across the Indian Ocean Region. On 14 April 2020, the Indian CNS warned Beijing for its presence in the Indian Ocean. Despite the fact that the U.S. and Japanese navies have also been surfing through the Indian Ocean during that time, Indian Navy chooses to single out Beijing’s naval movement.

This testifies that while India explores the ways to ingress in the South China Sea, it seeks to deny China to pursue its legitimate interests in the Indian Ocean. Instead of focusing on preventing the spread of global Pandemic challenge and ensuring indiscriminate access to health facilities for its general populace, the state of India seems more occupied with its usual power maximization objectives that would only exacerbate regional security competition. India’s growing naval deployments in its acclaimed areas of interest that extend beyond just Indian Ocean and also take into account waters beyond the Strait of Malacca, signify that India’s maritime strategy is poised to gain pre-eminence and exert sea-control rather than just ensuring self-defence.

It is also worth noting that 27 March 2020 marked the first anniversary of India’s test launch of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons system. The test was significant for India’s power projection that is now also based on its space capabilities that are more inclined towards military operations. Despite Indian claims that the debris of the launched weapon would dissipate, the debris of the ASAT was spotted above 2,200 kilometres and raised serious space risks. In the global efforts to combat COVID-19 pandemic, space based assets have been playing key role in missions like tracing the people who come in contact with COVID-19 patients. However, instead of contributing in the field, debris of Indian ASAT have yet not been mitigated even after one year and continue to threaten human lives given our dependence on satellite systems in our daily lives.

The world is coming together in this time of unparalleled uncertainty and chaos; it is sad and alarming that India continues to keep about its hysteric business as usual to exclude and target its own minorities and be aggressive towards Pakistan. As the attention of the global powers are focused at containing the devastating effects of this pandemic, it is not improbable to fear that India might try military activism in Kashmir or even at maritime fronts, not only to divert attention of the domestic populace but also to capitalize militarily to ingress into Azad Kashmir and drag Pakistan into low intensity conflicts.

–SufianUllah is a PhD scholar at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and a non-resident researcher at Maritime Study Forum Islamabad.