India’s prime minister has defended his move to strip the people of Kashmir of their special status, saying it represented “one nation, one constitution”.
Narendra Modi unfurled the Indian flag and addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 73rd anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain.
His wide-ranging speech tackled Kashmir but also highlighted other issues such as concerns about a “population explosion” in the country, calling better family planning an “act of patriotism”.
His address comes just 10 days after his government revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave the people of Jammu and Kashmir special status and privileges.
More significantly it gave the state its own constitution, flag and allowed most state laws to override federal laws.
Mr Modi said: “Something that couldn’t be done in the 70 years, the new government did within 70 days of taking over. The work of removing Article 370 and 35A was done by both houses of parliament, the lower house and upper house, with two-thirds majority.”
For the past 11 days there has been a near blackout of communication in Kashmir, with severe restrictions on the internet, mobile services and land line phones.
Thousands of paramilitary troops and police officers have descended on Srinagar and the Kashmir valley, with check posts, razor wire and anti-riot vehicles stationed on strategic roads.
All state political leaders and activists were taken into preventive custody immobilising all political opposition.
Under house arrest in Srinagar, Salman Anees Soz, a political leader told Sky News: “This is betrayal, there were constitutional guarantees for the people of Kashmir and those could only have been removed after consulting with the people of the state.
“This will do damage to the constitution.”
But Mr Modi has insisted that it is the “right thing”.
In his speech, which lasted for more than 90 minutes, Mr Modi explained his reasons for stripping back the rights of Kashmiris by saying: “The old arrangements during the last 70 years [Article 370 and 35A] encouraged secessionism. They gave birth to terrorism and nurtured nepotism.
“And in a way, they made the foundations of corruption and discrimination stronger.
“And that is why we had to ensure that the women [in Kashmir] get their rights. For my Dalit brothers and sisters [low-caste communities] there [in Kashmir] – they were not getting the rights other Dalits have in the country.
“And the rights available to the tribal communities in rest of India should also be available there [in Kashmir].”
Concerns of an incoming change to the demography of Kashmir have increased as Mr Modi spoke for the first time about a “population explosion” in India, which is home to 1.3bn people.
On population, Mr Modi said: “We have to think, can we do justice to the aspirations of our children? There is a need to have greater discussion and awareness on population explosion.
“Population explosion will cause many problems for our future generations. We have to be concerned about population explosion. The centre as well as state governments should launch schemes to tackle it.”
He also praised the “vigilant” members of society who he said “paused to think” before having a child, saying it was an “act of patriotism” that others could learn from.
In some states, potential politicians with more than two children are banned from running for election, but in general, measures around population control have been approached warily.
While the decision on Kashmir has outraged some, Mr Modi’s move has given him immense political capital in the rest of the country.
Rather than outrage there have been celebrations and support in most parts of the country. Barring a few opposition parties the rest have tacitly or openly supported the decision of the government.
Kashmir is a flashpoint between the two nuclear armed neighbours India and Pakistan. Both countries have fought wars over it.
This new move by the Indian government has further consolidated its hold and brought it directly under its control.
Pakistan has approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on this issue. Poland, which holds the UNSC presidency has made it clear New Delhi and Islamabad should find a solution bilaterally.
Kashmir has been in the grip of violence and militancy for the past three decades, and more than 42,000 people have been killed during this period.