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Kashmir dispute: India PM Modi defends lifting special status

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appeared on state media to defend his highly controversial decision to remove the special status accorded to Kashmir.

Mr Modi said a “new era” was beginning for the Indian-administered part of the region, where “hindrances” to its development had been lifted.

The area has been in lockdown since Sunday night, with mobile, landline and internet networks cut off.

Pakistan says the removal of special status breaches international law.

Like India, Pakistan claims Kashmir in its entirety, and the two nuclear-armed powers have fought several wars over the Himalayan region since partition in 1947.

This is Mr Modi’s first address to the nation since Monday’s announcement in parliament that Article 370 – the part of the constitution guaranteeing Jammu and Kashmir special status – had been revoked.

Mr Modi made his address via a broadcast on TV and radio – the latter the only platform that could reach Kashmiris while the region was still under lockdown.

The speech came amid uncertainty and division. While many Indians welcomed the move and lauded Mr Modi’s government for its decisiveness, others criticised India for what they said were heavy-handed and even unconstitutional tactics.

What did Modi say?
“The scrapping of Article 370 is the beginning of a new era,” Mr Modi said.

Kashmir’s special status, the prime minister argued, had been used as a weapon by Pakistan to “instigate some people”, but now India would rid the region of “terrorism and terrorists”.

He promised greater voting rights and transparency, as well as better rail and road links, and said the young people of Kashmir should “take charge of the development of their own land”.

A cinema industry could flourish in the picturesque region, he suggested.

“I think the whole world will come and shoot their films there,” he said. “[This will] bring employment for the people there.”

And he painted a picture of exports from the area taking off: “The colour of saffron or the taste of coffee from Jammu and Kashmir, be it the sweetness of the apple or the succulence of the apricot, be it Kashmiri shawls… they need to be spread worldwide.”

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