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India’s BJP vow to strip Kashmir of special rights

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah listens to Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh during the release BJP’s manifesto for the upcoming general elections in New Delhi, India, Monday, April 8, 2019. India’s general elections are scheduled to be held in seven phases starting from April 11. Votes will be counted on May 23. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI. April 8, (Agencies): India’s ruling party released its election manifesto on Monday, three days before the start of a multi-phase general election in the world’s largest democracy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party hoping to return to power for a second five-year term laid out their platform, emphasizing national security and economic development. The BJP manifesto opened with an entreaty from Modi for voters’ “valued blessings.” Modi said the document described the path for India to “move from being a developing country to a developed country” by 2047, asking,

“If the 21st century is Asia’s century, should India lead it or not? Can we or can we not?” Several other ministers in the BJPled government spoke on Monday, including the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, who said that the government “wants to expedite the path of progress.” Jaitley also cited an Indian airstrike against an alleged terrorist camp in Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir in February as proof that the incumbents have taken a hard stand against terrorism. The main opposition Congress party released its manifesto last week, blasting the Hindu nationalist BJP for working “to divide the nation.”

Since Modi and the BJP took power in 2014, there has been rising violence against India’s minority Muslim population. Meanwhile, India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party vowed on Monday to strip decades-old special rights from the people of Jammu and Kashmir, making an election promise that provoked warnings of a backlash in the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to retain power after a general election that starts on Thursday, though with a much smaller mandate, hit by concerns over a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices. It pledged to spend 100 trillion rupees ($1.44 trillion) on infrastructure in the next five years, to help create jobs for the millions entering the workforce each year.

Pollsters say the BJP’s re-election bid got a boost from recent hostilities with arch-rival Pakistan, after a militant group based there claimed a February suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian security forces in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. “Nationalism is our inspiration, economic development of the poor and backward sections our philosophy, and good governance our mantra,” Modi said after releasing the election manifesto at BJP headquarters in New Delhi, as supporters chanted “Modi, Modi”.

The BJP has consistently advocated an end to Kashmir’s special constitutional status, which prevents outsiders from buying property there, arguing that such laws have hindered its integration with the rest of India. “In the last five years, we have made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir through decisive actions and a firm policy,” it said in the manifesto.

“We are committed to overcome all obstacles in the way of development and provide adequate financial resources to all the regions of the state.” The party also reiterated its long-held desire to abolish Kashmir’s autonomous status. BJP supporters have sought the removal, expressing anger at many Kashmiris’ resistance to rule by India, which, for three decades, has battled an armed insurgency in the region also claimed by Pakistan.

“The BJP’s campaign is largely around nationalism, national security and this is what is getting echoed in their manifesto,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of thinktank the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

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