Ahead of Indian elections, Bharatiya Janata Party vows to strip Kashmiris of special rights

NEW DELHI: India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party vowed to strip decades-old special rights from the people of Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK), making an election promise that provoked warnings of a backlash in the region.

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, which followed the Pulwama attack in IoK in which 40 Indian security officers were killed. 

“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.

The BJP’s manifesto said that the party in the last five years had made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in IoK through decisive actions and firm policy. 

“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.

Repeal would bring widespread unrest, Kashmiri political leaders warned.

“Let them do it and it will pave the way for our azadi,” Farooq Abdullah, president of Kashmir’s National Conference party, told an election rally, referring to freedom for the region. “They are wrong. We will fight against it.”

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, the leader of a left party in Kashmir, warned of “disastrous and unimaginable repercussions”.

Voting in the general election begins on Thursday, but with about 900 million eligible voters, will be spread across several weeks, with ballots counted on May 23.