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Kashmir dispute: India PM Modi defends lifting special status

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Media captionThe BBC reports from inside Indian-administered Kashmir

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appeared on state media to defend his highly controversial decision to remove the special status accorded to Kashmir.

Mr Modi said a “new era” was beginning for the Indian-administered part of the region, where “hindrances” to its development had been lifted.

The area has been in lockdown since Sunday night, with mobile, landline and internet networks cut off.

Pakistan says the removal of special status breaches international law.

Like India, Pakistan claims Kashmir in its entirety, and the two nuclear-armed powers have fought several wars over the Himalayan region since partition in 1947. Each controls part of the territory.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi ruled out a new military conflict on Thursday, telling reporters in the capital Islamabad: “We’re not looking at the military option. We’re not.”

This is Mr Modi’s first address to the nation since Monday’s announcement in parliament that Article 370 – the part of the constitution guaranteeing Jammu and Kashmir special status – had been revoked.

Mr Modi made his address via a broadcast on TV and radio – the latter the only platform that could reach Kashmiris while the region was still under lockdown.

The speech came amid uncertainty and division. While many Indians welcomed the move and lauded Mr Modi’s government for its decisiveness, others criticised India for what they said were heavy-handed and even unconstitutional tactics.

What did Modi say?

When the government stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy, it also moved to divide it into two federally-administered territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Such “union territories” have less autonomy from the federal government than states do.

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Image caption Indians in cities like Mumbai watched Mr Modi’s speech live on TV

In his speech, Mr Modi suggested that Jammu and Kashmir could eventually re-gain the status of a state, but Ladakh would remain a union territory.

“The scrapping of Article 370 is the beginning of a new era,” he said.

Kashmir’s special status, the prime minister argued, had been used as a weapon by Pakistan to “instigate some people”, but now India would rid the region of “terrorism and terrorists”.

“There will be a lot of development,” he said. “All the citizens will be given their rights.”

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Image caption Narendra Modi took office in 2014

He promised greater voting rights and transparency, as well as better rail and road links, and said the young people of Kashmir should “take charge of the development of their own land”.

A cinema industry could flourish in the picturesque region, he suggested.

“I think the whole world will come and shoot their films there,” he said. “[This will] bring employment for the people there.”

And he painted a picture of exports from the area taking off: “The colour of saffron or the taste of coffee from Jammu and Kashmir, be it the sweetness of the apple or the succulence of the apricot, be it Kashmiri shawls… they need to be spread worldwide.”

What is happening in Kashmir?

Anticipating unrest over the controversial move, the government moved tens of thousands of troops into India’s northern-most region before Monday.

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Image caption Students protested in Delhi on Thursday against the ending of Kashmir’s special status

On Sunday evening, internet, mobile phone networks and landlines in the region were cut off; and political leaders, including two former chief ministers, were put under house arrest. They are reportedly still detained.

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Image caption The region remains under lockdown

The BBC has interviewed several Kashmiris in the region and other parts of India – they all spoke of a deep sense of betrayal and fear over what lies ahead.

At least 300 people – including politicians, activists, business leaders and professors – have reportedly been detained. There have also been instances of protesters throwing stones at security forces.

Why did the BJP revoke Article 370?

The Hindu nationalist BJP party has long vowed to revoke the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir. The party’s 2019 election manifesto said it was “discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Kashmir”, adding that it was an “obstacle in the development of the state.”

Article 370 guaranteed the Muslim-majority region greater autonomy than any other Indian state, as well as special privileges in education, jobs and property ownership.

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Image caption Home Minister Amit Shah announced the revocation in parliament on Monday

The special status often rankled the Hindu right-wing, which saw it as a “historical wrong”. The revocation was welcomed by BJP leaders and party supporters, who said Kashmir was finally “fully” integrated with India.

The move also energised the party’s base, which celebrated it as further proof of Mr Modi’s muscular nationalism. And some analysts described as a bold political move the swift, assured manner in which the BJP rolled back a 70-year-old deal between Delhi and India’s most volatile region.

While many opposition lawmakers launched a scathing criticism of the government, several parties backed the decision over fears of being labelled “anti-national”. A senior leader from the main opposition Congress party said his party had been “politically outwitted” by the BJP.

What was the international reaction?

China has described the removal of Kashmir’s special status as “unacceptable”.

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Image caption India has deployed tens of thousands of troops to the region

The United Nations said it was “deeply concerned” about the situation. UN spokesperson Rupert Colville said the “blanket telecommunications restrictions, perhaps more blanket than we have seen before” would prevent people from “participating fully in democratic debate about the future status of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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