NEW DELHI: Jammu and Kashmir stands on the cusp of a fresh start, one that is marked by peace, democracy and development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the nation on Thursday, two days after Parliament signed off on a constitutional amendment ending its special status.
In a televised address, Modi said the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A and J&K’s integration with the rest of the country had created an enabling system to make a big push for development, good governance and increased Union government spending.
“Article 370 and Article 35A had only given terrorism, separatism, nepotism and massive corruption. These Articles were used as a weapon by Pakistan to inflame passions. This is the reason that in the last three decades, 42,000 people died and it brings tears to anyone’s eyes," Modi said.
Breaking his silence over the government’s move, Modi urged the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, and the country at large to come forward for the development of J&K and end the menace of terrorism.
Modi’s address was as much a message to the international community as it was to his domestic audience. It came as the US recalibrated its position on India’s move to abrogate Article 370 and integrate J&K more firmly into the country by reorganizing it into two union territories.
The change in tone by the US followed Pakistan’s move to expel India’s envoy to Islamabad and suspend trade ties. This was just days after Washington seemed to tacitly back New Delhi’s step. The US was joined by the United Arab Emirates and other nations such as Sri Lanka in backing the Indian move.
Analysts said Modi’s speech aimed to neutralize Pakistan’s propaganda.
“The message from the Prime Minister was a powerful one. It was meant for the domestic audience as well as for an international one. Those people who are moderate but looking for a separate identity, they are the ones who would be willing to attest to the sincerity of the government of India after this speech," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
“The international community would not have any problems investing in Ladakh in solar energy that the Prime Minister talked about, or in Jammu. But for investments to flow into the Kashmir valley, it will take time with people waiting to see how the situation pans out. Pakistan will try to raise tensions to keep the pot boiling," Sibal added.
In his address, Modi also said that the current restrictions in J&K will be in place as they were imposed as precautionary steps, before being lifted gradually. Modi said the people of the state were cooperating with the authorities.
“The people of Jammu and Kashmir are standing against the plans of Pakistan to create problems in the state and spread terrorism and separatism. People who want to create problems are being fought by the people of Jammu and Kashmir," said Modi.
He said the state will have assembly elections and the people of Jammu and Kashmir will get an opportunity to elect their own members of legislative assembly and chief minister in a transparent manner.
“I urge the youth of Jammu and Kashmir to come forward and take part in the elections so that they can work for the development of the state. People can choose their own representative and chief minister. People of Jammu and Kashmir did not get an opportunity to become leaders in the state because of dynasty-ruled parties," the PM added.
Modi clarified that after the development is taken forward and there is peace, statehood will be returned to Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh, however, will remain a Union territory.
Reaching out to the people of J&K and the political parties of the country, Modi said while people had the right to hold different opinions in a democracy, the need of the hour was to rise above politics.
“It is obvious in a democracy that some people will not agree with the decision. I respect the views of those who differ but I urge them to act in the interest of the country and help in the development of the state. We cannot separate from the people of J&K," Modi said.
Political analysts said Modi’s speech may open up new channels of communication with other countries.
“The general mood is that Article 370 was a relic and whatever may be the nuances, it had to go. The second thing is that he is using this opportunity to stress that India has taken a strong step and one has to now see what Pakistan does," said Manisha Priyam, a Delhi-based political analyst. “This address may just serve as a launch pad for back channel communications with other countries."