PALLI, India – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a solar power plant in northern India’s Palli village on Sunday. green development.
Security was tight for what was Mr Modi’s first public gathering in Jammu and Kashmir since his government stripped the region of its long-held semi-autonomous status in 2019 and split the region into two federally controlled enclaves. Mr Modi then said the area’s special status had encouraged separatism and hindered economic development.
“As your parents and your grandparents suffered,” Mr Modi told youth in the region on Sunday, “you will never have to endure those hardships. I will take care of it, and I have come to assure you that.”
The message of development and integration with India has long resonated here in Jammu, a Hindu-majority region, unlike Kashmir, where people say they have seen no signs of development and resentment is growing.
“We had hardly any electricity and we sometimes lit our houses by burning wood,” said Samita Devi, who lives in Palli, a village of more than 450 families near the border with Pakistan. We are very happy because of the new factory, he said.
The symbolism of the gesture was evident as Mr Modi and some of his ministers traveled to Palli to greet what the government said would be the first of many carbon neutral villages across India, thanks to the solar power plant. He hopes the development will help end decades of political unrest in Kashmir, which at times continues to turn violent.
A new 500-kilowatt solar project to provide constant electricity to the farming village was supposed to be a sign of change in Jammu, where development projects have accelerated in recent months.
But the large presence of police officers searching vehicles and manning checkpoints underscores the fact that the region’s security problems remain a regular part of life in the Himalayan region.
After Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status was revoked, authorities cut lines of communication in the region, dispatched tens of thousands of troops and arrested known separatists and even political moderates. For years, moderates had argued that Kashmiris should accept some measure of Indian rule. Since then, repression has continued in the Kashmir Valley, which is home to about eight million people.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party won a majority of seats in 2014 local parliamentary elections in Hindu-majority areas, but the Modi government’s attempt to install more loyal officials appears to have failed. failed. It now relies on many of the same politicians it once imprisoned to keep the peace. A pledge to hold new elections in 2019 after the state of Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded to federal territory status has yet to be fulfilled.
Kashmir has been smoldering for decades. An uprising that began in 1989 and cost tens of thousands of lives has largely subsided, although militants are still carrying out coordinated attacks. In recent months there have been fewer street protests against the ubiquitous presence of the Indian military, but militants seeking an independent Kashmir continue to attack Indian troops and sometimes kill civilians.
Just last Friday, police said, two Indian migrant workers were shot and seriously injured by militants, often targeting workers from outside the region. The day before, police said seven militants and an Indian soldier were killed in two separate clashes.
India has often blamed Pakistan for the unrest in Kashmir, which controls part of the region and claims everything.
Many ordinary Kashmiris say they feel besieged and that the promised economic benefits of the region’s new status are yet to come.
“There is no visible development and jobs, but we feel stressed, humiliated, powerless,” said Fida Hussain, a student in Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city.
In the days leading up to Mr Modi’s visit to Jammu, authorities detained many Kashmiris in what appeared to be an attempt to prevent protests. Last week, a student activist was arrested and charged under an anti-terrorism law for an op-ed he wrote more than 10 years ago that, according to police, glorified terrorism.
When Mr Modi brought electricity to Palli on Sunday, he took the opportunity to draw attention to $2.6 billion development proposals that his government hopes will better integrate the region with India.
“Today is a very important day to accelerate the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mr Modi.
In Palli, thousands of village chiefs and residents gathered on Sunday to listen and shout ‘Modi! Fashionable!’ echoed through the small village during his speech.
Hundreds of people, heads covered in saffron flags – the color is associated with Hinduism – walked for hours to attend the rally, where huge billboards were installed along the road to welcome Mr Modi.
Thousands of people involved in village councils attended the public meeting, while many others across the country watched the prime minister via video link.
In recent months, there has been an increase in attacks on village council representatives by militants in Kashmir, where they are seen as supporters of the Indian government. Four have been killed since last month.
“We risked our lives to strengthen grassroots democracy and empower people,” said Bashir Ahmad Naik, a village councilor, who traveled miles from Kashmir in a free bus provided by the area’s government. offered to attend the meeting. “The Prime Minister must provide us with security, support us and strengthen our hands.”
In addition to inaugurating the carbon neutral village, Mr. Modi also took part in a ceremony to mark the start of construction on two 1,390 megawatt hydroelectric projects, and opened an all-weather road tunnel that will reduce travel time between Kashmir and the rest of the world. of the land will shorten. country.
According to the Modi government, Kashmir should integrate with the rest of India, rather than maintain its own identity, said Noor Ahmad Baba, a former political science professor at the University of Kashmir.
“Previous governments tried to accommodate differences, and there was a degree of adjustment and compromise by New Delhi; that’s how leaders thought problems would be solved,” he said.