Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the people of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday that elections would be held soon in the state for the local assembly, two days after the government’s decision to end special status for the state and split it into two union territories.
In an address broadcast on television and radio, the first time he has spoken to the nation on the decision, Modi painted the move as one that will benefit the people of Kashmir. The federal government would take steps to create more economic opportunities, he said.
This week’s move, tightening New Delhi’s grip on the contested region, withdrew the Muslim majority state’s right to frame its own laws and allowed people from outside the region to buy property there.
“The people of Jammu and Kashmir will be able to choose their leaders, their CMs (chief ministers) like they have done before,” Modi said. He added that once the law-and-order situation improves in the region, Jammu and Kashmir would again be converted into a full-fledged state.
Indian authorities have imposed a communications blackout on Kashmir for a fourth straight day, stopping media from being able to report what is happening there.
Modi said the government had taken the decision to repeal Article 370 and 35A of the constitution for the overall development of the region. These legal provisions created hurdles to extending legal benefits to women, minorities and students that the rest of India provides, he said.
Introduced decades ago, the constitutional provisions provided autonomy to the state authorities to limit the implementation of Indian laws as well as to keep people from other parts of the country from overrunning the state.
“I am confident that with Article 370 and 35A becoming history, Jammu and Kashmir will come out of its negative effects,” Modi said.
Modi said the decision to change the status of Kashmir would help government employees of Jammu and Kashmir get the benefits enjoyed by people of other federally administered territories.
He also exhorted large corporations, including information technology companies, to invest in the state and generate jobs for the people from the region, and promised to step up infrastructure projects in the region.
The Indian government’s move has drawn a strong reaction from Pakistan, which has taken a series of steps to exert diplomatic pressure on its neighbour. Kashmir has been at the heart of 70 years of hostility between the countries.