Indian-occupied Kashmir was stripped of its autonomy to free it from “terrorism and separatism”, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday.
In his first comments on the constitutional bombshell carried out while Kashmir was under a military lockdown, Modi insisted that his government had made a “historic decision”. He did not bring up the clampdown in the region in his speech.
The Hindu nationalist BJP government rushed through a presidential decree on Monday to ditch the Muslim-majority region's constitutionally-guaranteed status. The Indian parliament also passed a law splitting the state into two territories.
The move was opposed by some of the opposition and has been questioned by Indian journalists and international organisations.
Internet and telephone connections in Kashmir have been cut since Monday and a curfew imposed as the authorities feared trouble when the decision was announced.
The move was slammed by Pakistan, with the government deciding to expel India's ambassador and suspend all bilateral trade. The parliament also passed a resolution condemning New Delhi's actions while Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed the fear of India committing genocide and ethnic cleansing in occupied Kashmir.
Modi in his speech alleged that Pakistan encouraged "terrorism and separatism" in occupied Kashmir.
“Friends, I have full belief that we will be able to free Jammu and Kashmir from terrorism and separatism under this system,” he said.
“I have full faith that the people of Jammu and Kashmir, after defeating separatism, will move forward with new hopes and aspirations.”
He said the special status has “not given anything other than terrorism, separatism, nepotism and big corruption”.
Modi said he respected opposition politicians and prominent Kashmiris who have opposed the government's strong-arm tactics.
“We are working to answer their points but I request them to act to keep India's interests and help Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh,” he said.
“I want to assure my Jammu and Kashmir colleagues that slowly things will become normal and their problems will reduce.”
The contentious move comes just days before the Muslim festival of Eidul Azha, and Modi said Kashmiris would not face difficulties celebrating the festival.
BJP govt strips Kashmiris of special autonomy
On Monday, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party stripped Kashmiris of the special autonomy they had for seven decades through a rushed presidential order. An indefinite curfew — that today entered its fourth day — was imposed in occupied Kashmir and elected leaders were put under house arrest.
By repealing Article 370 of the constitution, people from the rest of India will now have the right to acquire property in occupied Kashmir and settle there permanently. Kashmiris as well as critics of India’s Hindu nationalist-led government see the move as an attempt to dilute the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindu settlers.
Furthermore, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also president of the BJP, moved a bill to bifurcate the state into two union territories — one, Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a legislature, and the other, Ladakh — to be directly ruled by New Delhi. The bill was passed.
Pakistan had strongly condemned the move and vowed to "exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps" taken by India. A joint parliamentary session was summoned by President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran constituted a high-power committee to devise future strategy with regards to occupied Kashmir.