India’s prime minister yesterday invoked the country’s independence leaders as he claimed the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy fulfilled their dreams of a united India.In a historic address on live television, Narendra Modi said the government’s decision to scrap Article 370 of the constitution — which gave the state unique freedoms — “will rid Jammu and Kashmir of terror and separatism”.The move “fulfils the dreams of Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar [two independence leaders] and hundreds of thousands of patriots”, Mr Modi said.Underlining the most dramatic constitutional change in India’s 70-year history as an independent nation, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that Article 370 “benefited no one” and prevented Kashmir from developing.“The Kashmiris, who were deprived of benefits and development because of special status, will no more be left behind,” he said, lamenting the deaths of 42,000 people in clashes since independence.TV commentators noted that most Kashmiris were unable to hear the prime minister’s words as they have been under lockdown for almost a week with no access to the internet or telecommunications networks.Mr Modi also said that Pakistan and militant groups based in Kashmir had historically “instigated the people of J&K through certain agents” because of the potential ambiguity of the state’s special status. But he pledged that now women, workers, “minorities” and law enforcement would all benefit from the changes and mean Kashmiris would “enjoy equal rights” to other Indians.He also promised “free and fair” state elections, increased investment in sport and a range of other benefits in a speech taken as an address to the rest of India rather than Kashmiris themselves.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives for a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentary committee meeting at the Parliament house in New Delhi on July 30, 2019.
Prakash SINGH / AFP
Information coming from Kashmir is limited, with severe travel restrictions in place especially for journalists and NGOs.In the past week, around 500 politicians, activists and alleged separatists have been detained, prompting the UN human rights council to it was “deeply concerned about the situation”.Reports yesterday said up to 70 “suspected terrorists” were transferred from Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital, to the city of Agra by the air force, an unprecedented move for people not even officially charged.The reaction to the law changes has transcended national borders, with Pakistan saying they are tantamount to human rights abuse against the majority Muslim inhabitants of the state.On Wednesday, Islamabad expelled India’s top envoy and announced it would downgrade diplomatic relations. India responded by saying Kashmir was a “sovereign matter”.Imran Khan, the prime minister, tweeted: “What should be obvious is the international community will be witnessing the genocide of the Kashmiris in IOK [‘Indian Occupied Kashmir’].“Question is: will we watch another appeasement of fascism, this time in the garb of BJP government, or will the international community have the moral courage to stop this from happening?”