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Modi Holds Rally in Volatile Kashmir Region Before Elections

In the run-up to the national elections, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a rare political rally in the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir Thursday, nearly five years after his government revoked its statehood and special status.

Security stand guard ahead of a rally by Narendra Modi in Srinagar on March 7.
Security stand guard ahead of a rally by Narendra Modi in Srinagar on March 7.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first rally in the main city of Kashmir since his government revoked the region’s special status nearly five years ago, wooing residents just weeks before national elections. 

Speaking to a crowd in Srinagar on Thursday, Modi said he had “won your hearts and I will continue to win them more.” 

Opposition parties alleged the administration had forcefully bused in the crowd to the rally. The prime minister was in the city to launch 64 billion rupees ($773 million) worth of projects, some of which were earmarked for the region.

Jammu and Kashmir, which was brought under federal control in August 2019, hasn’t held local elections since the government scrapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution that gave the region autonomy and special status. The region is India’s only Muslim-majority one and removing its special status had been a long-held campaign promise of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been deprived of their rights by previous political parties and today those rights are being returned to them,” Modi said, citing equal rights and opportunities provided by his administration. 

Kashmir has long been a volatile region. It has seen decades of separatist violence, and been a source of the dispute between India and neighboring Pakistan since the two gained independence in 1947. 

The BJP-led central government hasn’t given a time line for when elections will be held in the region or when statehood will be restored. Late last year, India’s top court upheld the government’s decision to scrap the region’s autonomy, and directed the government to hold elections by September this year. 

The government suspended internet and phone services in the Kashmir valley for many months in the aftermath of its decision to revoke Article 370, and arrested many of the region’s political leaders. 

In election rallies around the country, Modi has hailed the decision to revoke Article 370 and has said his government will win 370 seats, out of 543, in the lower house of the parliament because of the move. 

(Updates with additional details and comments.)

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