Amid heavy security following an increase in militant violence in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought the Muslim-majority state promises of development.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is making an unprecedented bid for power in the Himalayan region that lies at the heart of rivalry between India and Pakistan.
Before the next round of elections Tuesday, Modi addressed two campaign rallies in Kashmir, promising to transform the region wearied by years of strife.
Nearly 4,000 troops guarded the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium - the venue of the rally in Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar. Paramilitary snipers stood on rooftops, residents faced curfew-like restrictions and Muslim separatist leaders called for a shutdown as the prime minister made his bid to reach out to Kashmiris.
Tackling corruption, poverty
Modi said terrorism had ended in the region, but corruption is still rampant. He said the biggest challenge is to end corruption and fight poverty and unemployment.
He promised to bring justice to people in a region where there is deep resentment of Indian security forces, whom Kashmiris accuse of targeting innocent people as they fight militants.
The Indian leader pointed out that, for the first time, the army has admitted a mistake in the deaths of two teenage boys recently and has taken action against the soldiers who shot them.
At the same time, Modi defended the heavy presence of troops in the state, saying they are there to safeguard democracy.
Before addressing the rally, he paid tribute to 11 security personnel killed Friday in a militant attack on an army base. They were among 21 people who died that day in a surge of violence.
Many in Srinagar regard the bid for power by Modi’s party as audacious in the Muslim majority region.
Srinagar was the hub of a separatist revolt that wracked Kashmir for 25 years. Although the insurgency has abated, the BJP is widely mistrusted in the valley.
Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah complained that many people who attended the rally were brought in from Hindu-dominated areas.
Need support of other regions
The BJP’s hopes of winning power in the state largely rest on getting support from the Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist Leh regions.
Earlier, addressing a rally in Samba town in Jammu, Modi said the strong voter turnout in the first two stages of polling shows people have rejected violence and want development.
Kashmir is in the middle of five-stage polls - the third round will be held Tuesday in the region claimed by India and Pakistan.
New Delhi has been elated by the high voter turnout of nearly 70 percent in the first stages. Pakistan said the elections are meaningless and wants talks to resolve the territorial dispute.