SRINAGAR: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on Thursday described the scrapping of Article 370 as a significant step toward Indian integration.
In his address to the nation, Modi accused past governments of “shelving the decision to remove Article 370 in order to serve their political interests.”
He criticized opposition leaders for questioning the decision to repeal the article that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous status.
“If the opposition thinks that scrapping Article 370 is a bad political move, why they did not make it a permanent part of the constitution?
“The opposition was doing politics, they didn’t have the courage to take such a drastic decision in the past, and whatever decision I have taken was done in the national interest. I don’t think of politics but only the national interest,” said Modi in his speech, delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi.
He added that the article “promoted militancy and separatism, besides patronizing the dynastic politics and all round corruption in the state.”
In Srinagar, the event to celebrate India’s Independence Day was a governmental event with little participation from the local population.
Srinagar city remains completely shut down, with the government continuing a strict prohibitory order in the state capital for the 12th consecutive day. Paramilitary personnel have been stationed and barbed wire has been placed throughout the city, making it difficult to move from one locality to another without permission.
With mobile networks shutdown and a complete clampdown of communications, it is difficult to hear about what is happening across the city.
The local administration brought students and a cultural troupe from Jammu and other neighboring states to participate in the celebrations held at Sher-i-Kashmir stadium. The sprawling stadium was mostly deserted, with only media, police and paramilitary personnel present.
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) brought in some workers from the Hindu-dominated Jammu and neighboring states.
Pragya Singh, a PhD student from Jammu university, was brought in along with 25 other students to participate in the cultural activities to mark Independence Day in Srinagar.
“I am from Bihar (an eastern Indian state) but I have studied at Jammu University for the last five years,” said Singh, 28.
“I have come here to perform a Kashmiri dance with other students. I recently learnt it from my dance teacher,” added the student.
She told Arab News that “after speaking with Kashmiri people over the last few days, I realize that their anger at the article being scrapped is justified. If you attack and deprive someone of their identity they will react with full force.
“The government should have taken the opinion of the people before making such a major decision.”
Chitra Meena, from the western state of Rajasthan, has also been brought in to perform a Kashmiri dance.
“I feel sad that there isn’t a girl from the valley to take part in the event. This shows how alienated Kashmir is from the rest of India,” Meena said.
The girls were stopped from interacting with the media by the local administration.
“The anger of the local people won’t last long. They will realize the importance of the scrapping of Article 370. By being part of the national mainstream, Kashmir will enjoy immense benefits,” said Ashwani Kumar Chrumgoo, the BJP’s spokesperson on Kashmir affairs.
“I have come here from Jammu to see the national flag flying in Srinagar. My message is for peace, integration and a better future,” Chrumgoo added.
Many people in the valley are unconvinced by Chrumgoo’s sentiments.
Mohammed Hussain, an entrepreneur based in Srinagar, said: “Tell me, what should we celebrate? The snatching away of our democratic rights? Should we celebrate the complete clampdown on our communication and mobility? Should we celebrate the presence of the military in our state?”
He added: “If India is an independent nation, Kashmir was also a sovereign nation before 1947. India’s Independence Day doesn’t mean anything to us, we are now an occupied nation. We want independence for ourselves.”
Abdul Majid, a fruit salesman, said “India is celebrating its Independence Day by crushing us. Our leaders have been arrested, people have been imprisoned in their homes, we have not been allowed to offer Eid prayers in our mosques, what kind of independence this so-called democratic India is celebrating.”
Abdul Rasheed, 17, said “what future will we have in India now after the scrapping of Article 370? Our schools have been closed for more than two weeks. The atmosphere around me has become so tense that as a young guy I can’t think of a future in this situation.”
Javed Dar, a businessman in the Shoura area of Srinagar, said that “the number of troops in Srinagar is bigger than the population of the city. Is this a free India?
“People are angry. We don’t want to go with India nor with Pakistan. We want our own independence.”