Modi visits Kashmir’s main city since revoking region’s semi-autonomy

New Delhi, Mar. 8: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday made his first official visit to Kashmir’s main city since New Delhi stripped the disputed region of semi-autonomy and took direct control of it in 2019.

Addressing a crowd in a soccer stadium in Srinagar, Modi announced development projects, and said previous governments had misled people over the region’s now-scrapped special status.

“The success story of Jammu and Kashmir will be the centre of attraction for the world,” he said, saying that the region has prospered since the 2019 move. “I have always said that the hard work I am doing is to win your hearts. I will work towards winning your hearts further,” Modi told the crowd.

Modi and his party have accused Kashmir’s political parties of being corrupt, misleading Kashmiris and promoting separatism in the region. Kashmiri politicians, who say their special status was a constitutional guarantee, have called Modi divisive and anti-minority.

Modi’s two previous visits to Kashmir after its status was changed were to the Hindu-dominated city of Jammu.

Modi did not mention plans to hold elections in the region or to restore its statehood, both demanded by Kashmir’s political parties. The last election for the regional legislature were held in 2014, but the government elected then was dismissed in 2018.

In 2019, Modi’s  government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, annulled its separate constitution, split the area into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. 

India’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah, has repeatedly promised that the region would be regain statehood after elections. In December, India’s Supreme Court upheld the 2019 decision and asked the government to conduct state polls by September.

The region has been on edge since 2019, as authorities put in place a slew of new laws that many residents fear could change majority-Muslim Kashmir’s demographics. The move was welcomed in much of India, where the Modi government was cheered by supporters for fulfilling a long-held nationalist pledge.

In New Delhi’s effort to shape what it calls a “new Kashmir,” India has shown no tolerance for dissent, curbing civil liberties intimidating media.

Thursday’s event is seen as part of Modi’s campaign ahead of national elections scheduled in April and May.

Such security measures have been common in Kashmir since 1989, when rebels began fighting against Indian rule.

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