A new era of peace, freedom, security, good governance and opportunities has begun in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his address to the nation on Thursday, two days after the Parliament overwhelmingly voted for removal of an anti-people provision that chained the region to its colonial and dynastic past for 72 years.
Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir is now a union territory with a legislature after both Houses of Parliament abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution that gave the region special status for historical reasons and revoked its statehood.
The quick and unprecedented central move caught Kashmiri leaders, people and mainstream opposition parties off their guard and Modi allayed their concerns by assuring them that statehood will be restored to Jammu & Kashmir as soon as the situation in the Kashmir valley becomes conducive to grant that.
Defending the move to scrap Article 370, Modi said it discriminated against minorities, women and refugees who came from Pakistan and settled in the territory during partition. However, they could not buy property or avail job quota and other benefits like the majority community. With the abrogation of this temporal provision, they will enjoy the same rights as the rest of the citizens.
Article 370 created a division between the territory and the rest of the country and a false sense of alienation among local people that encouraged terrorists and separatists to sow seeds of discord. The removal of this divisive provision will lead to full integration of Jammu & Kashmir.
The Centre will handle security and make life safer for the people and the territory terrorism-free, Modi said.
Article 370 was a stumbling block for the territory’s growth. Now that it has been removed, the Centre will usher in development for the region through projects which were only on paper earlier. Central funds never reached the common man. Now private investments will come in a big way to change the face of the territory and generate jobs for youth.
The Centre will focus on expansion of roads, railways and airports. Efforts will be made to bring back tourists to the territory. The Hindi film industry will be encouraged to shoot in the region. Jammu & Kashmir will regain the paradise it lost after militancy and terrorism wrecked its valley.
Modi promised free and fair early elections once the atmosphere conducive for it is created. Youth will be encouraged to contest polls.
Underlining the significance of panchayat or local elections, he hailed the good work of elected members in electrification of villages and building more toilets to address the problem of open defecation.
Modi said he respects dissenting views which are not against national interests. Critics should put India first. Many may have different views on Article 370. People back the decision. Only a few oppose it. The Centre will try to assuage their concerns.
People are concerned that internet, mobile service and landlines have been disabled in the territory. But those restrictions are temporary and may be lifted soon.
People are more concerned by the warnings issued earlier by former chief ministers Mehabooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah over Article 370. Mufti and Abdullah are members of two dynastic families that ruled the territory for years.
Turning to Ladah, which is now a union territory without legislature, Modi said the innovative spirit of Ladakhi youth can fast-track development in this much neglected region.
Ladakh holds immense potential in spiritual, adventure and eco-tourism and solar power generation.
Removing Article 370 and freeing Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh from its shackles was the dream of late leaders such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and AB Vajpayee, Modi said.
He ended his 38-minute speech by wishing the people of Jammu & Kashmir a hassle-free Eid.