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Modi defends Kashmir move in address to nation

Mumbai

INDIA'S Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hit back at critics of his government's decision to revoke Kashmir's autonomy, saying its special status had only led to terrorism and separatism.

The move will allow Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to play a meaningful role in India's development, Mr Modi said in his address to the nation on Independence Day from New Delhi's 17th-century Red Fort, before turning to his ambitions for India to become a US$5 trillion economy in the next five years.

"Those who supported Article 370, India is asking them - if this was so important and life changing, why was this article not made permanent," said Mr Modi, referring to the part of the constitution that gave Kashmir autonomy. "One Nation, One Constitution - this spirit has become a reality and India is proud of that."

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He said "fresh thinking" was needed after seven decades of failure to ensure harmony in the picturesque but tragic former Himalayan kingdom, where tens of thousands have died in the past 30 years.

"We do not believe in creating problems or prolonging them. In less than 70 days of the new government, Article 370 has become history. And in both houses of parliament, two-thirds of the members supported this step," said Mr Modi, 68. "The old arrangement in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh encouraged corruption and nepotism, as well as injustice when it came to rights of women, children, (low-caste) Dalits, tribal communities," he said. "Their dreams get new wings."

Pakistan meanwhile observed "Black Day" to coincide with Indian Independence Day to protest the Kashmir decision. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan replaced his Twitter profile photo with a black circle.

Mr Khan, who has compared Mr Modi's government to Nazi Germany, on Thursday took to Twitter to voice his alarm. "Will world silently witness another Srebrenica-type massacre & ethnic cleansing of Muslims in IOK? (Indian-occupied Kashmir)," he wrote, referring to the killing of Muslim men and boys in Yugoslavia in 1995. "I want to warn international community if it allows this to happen, it will have severe repercussions & reactions in the Muslim world setting off radicalisation & cycles of violence."

Mr Modi faces a raft of serious challenges in his second term in government. He needs to bring back normalcy in the restive Kashmir region, create jobs, reduce hardship among millions of impoverished farmers, continue pushing welfare programmes and revive India's slowing economy.

He's been under pressure to boost growth after it slipped to a five-year low of 5.8 per cent in the three months to March. Latest high frequency indicators show economic activity is subdued and a recovery is still distant, given a gloomy global outlook exacerbated by US-China trade tensions.

The government plans to spend 3.5 trillion rupees (S$68 billion) to bring piped water to households in coming years, Mr Modi said on Thursday, along with a 100 trillion rupee infrastructure programme that was announced in the July budget. BLOOMBERG, AFP