India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing an election rally in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon on Sunday, dared the country's opposition to restore Article 370 in occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
On August 5, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind signed an order repealing the special status granted to occupied Kashmir under Article 370 — a move that was vehemently opposed by majority of the opposition.
Members of the opposition, including those from Congress, have also criticised the continued lockdown and communications blackout in the Valley, which has now been in place for more than two months, as well as the mass arrests of Kashmiri politicians.
“Can these leaders, who’re trying to fool the people with their crocodile tears, bring back Article 370 in Kashmir? Will the people of India allow them to? Will the people of India accept it? I challenge opposition to declare in their manifesto they will bring back Article 370,” Modi was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times on Sunday.
He accused the Congress of politicising the government’s decision on occupied Kashmir to "reap benefits" in the upcoming Maharashtra assembly elections.
“Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) think completely opposite to what the country thinks. They speak the language of a neighbouring country and hesitate to stand by the country,” Modi alleged, without naming the 'neighbouring country'.
Saying that Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were not "just a piece of land or territory" for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he called the two "the crown of India". "Looking at the security needs, we took the necessary steps."
He also claimed that India has "tried its best to ensure normalcy in the area, amidst all the negative powers in and around the area”.
Reports emerging from the Valley, however, tell a different reality. Millions have been left isolated from the world since the lockdown was enforced, with concerns raised about lack of medical supplies in the area. The crisis has upended the education of millions of children in the disputed Himalayan region, and many have been caught up in street violence.
Reports from the region also suggest that children — some as young as 14 — have been injured in actions by government forces.
An article published in The New York Times on October 7, titled "In Kashmir, a race against death, with no way to call a doctor", gave accounts of doctors and patients in occupied Kashmir who say the crackdown has taken many lives.
“At least a dozen patients have died because they could not call an ambulance or could not reach the hospital on time, the majority of them with heart-related disease,’’ Sadaat, a doctor who did not want to be identified by his full name out of fear or reprisals, told NYT.
Kashmiri doctors have also accused Indian security forces of directly harassing and intimidating medical personnel, according to the NYT report.
Modi on Sunday insisted the steps were taken "for security".
"We are working to bring the situation to normal. We won’t take four months to normalise the situation that had been so bad for 40 years,” he was quoted as saying.
Facing international pressure to ease people’s suffering and restore normal life, Indian authorities announced this past week that they would allow tourists back into the region after ordering them to leave in August because of security concerns. But tourists are unlikely to experience 'normal life' in the disputed area or be able to use mobile internet or cellphones, which remain cut.
Some tourist operators expressed surprise over the Indian government’s decision.
“When everything is shut, what kind of tourist will take a risk to come here without basic amenities like phones and public transport?” said Bashir Ahmed, a tourist operator whose business has been shut since August.
India “has always tried to use tourism as a sign of normality”, said Nazir Ahmed, a Kashmiri schoolteacher.