Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended his government’s decision to revoke the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir state, saying he was proud that “‘one nation, one constitution’ has become a reality.”
Speaking Thursday morning from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in the capital New Delhi to mark India’s independence from British colonial rule, Modi lauded the controversial decision to reorganize the disputed Kashmir region and strip the state of its semi-autonomous status.
“The old arrangement in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh encouraged corruption, nepotism but there was injustice when it came to rights of women, children, Dalits, tribal communities,” said Modi.
“The rights and responsibilities of every citizen in the country have become equal,” he added.
Modi’s comments come as Kashmir remains under a tight security lockdown and total communications blackout. The repressive measures, in place since August 5, were introduced just days before the Indian government announced that it was withdrawing Article 370 of the country’s constitution, reclassifying Jammu and Kashmir’s administrative status from a state to a union territory.
In the Indian system, state governments retain significant authority over local matters but New Delhi has more of a say in the affairs of a union territory. The provision also allowed the Muslim-majority state to reserve privileges such as property rights, jobs and scholarships for residents.
Critics have accused the Modi government of attempting to change the region’s demographics. But Modi has repeatedly insisted that the special status of Jammu and Kashmir had restricted investment and economic growth. Revoking that status was one of the promises he made ahead of recent national elections.
“In less than 70 days of the new government, Article 370 has become history, and in both Houses of Parliament, two thirds of the members supported this step. This shows everyone always endorsed it but was waiting for someone to take the initiative,” he said.
Modi’s address was in stark contrast to his Pakistani counterpart’s fiery independence day speech the day before from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his country is prepared to “fight to the end” over Kashmir if necessary.
“I don’t want war, but it’s clear now that they don’t want to talk. War will not help us at all,” said Khan.
He accused India of trying to marginalize and radicalize the region’s Muslims and called New Delhi’s move to strip Indian-controled Kashmir of its autonomy a “strategic blunder.”
Instead of responding to the attack, Modi praised his government’s swift action, saying “We do not believe in creating problems or prolonging them.”
As part of the security lockdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir, tens of thousands of additional Indian troops have been deployed to the region. Last week, there were reports of unrest with some groups pelting stones in the city of Srinagar after restrictions were relaxed for the Muslim festival of Eid. Since then, a curfew has been reinforced.
Kashmir is one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, it has been the epicenter for more than 70 years of an often violent territorial struggle between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
A de facto border called the Line of Control divides the region between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Pakistan has responded to India’s policy change by taking the issue to the United Nations Security Council and has requested member states to intervene.
The country also announced it will downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend bilateral trade with India.
Last week, Khan likened India’s revoking of Jammu and Kashmir state’s autonomy to Nazi ideology, and warned the international community that inaction would be similar to appeasing Hitler.
This “ideology of Hindu Supremacy, like the Nazi Aryan Supremacy, will not stop” in Indian-controlled Kashmir, “instead it will lead to suppression of Muslims in India and eventually lead to targeting of Pakistan,” he tweeted.
China, which shares a part of Jammu and Kashmir’s western border and controls 20 percent of the Kashmir region also protested India’s actions, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry accusing New Delhi of encroaching on Chinese territorial sovereignty.
Beijing warned India to “strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached by both sides, and avoid taking actions that would further complicate the boundary issue.”