Kashmiris ‘breathing freely’ now, says PM Modi

In his first visit to Kashmir since the BJP-led Union government abrogated Article 370, PM Modi extended his “advance wishes” for the upcoming month of Ramzan and for Maha Shivratri

March 07, 2024 02:07 pm | Updated March 08, 2024 07:29 am IST - SRINAGAR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the ‘Viksit Bharat, Viksit Jammu & Kashmir’ programme, in Srinagar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the ‘Viksit Bharat, Viksit Jammu & Kashmir’ programme, in Srinagar. | Photo Credit: PTI

Claiming that the people of Kashmir were now “breathing free” thanks to the abrogation of Article 370, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — on his first trip to Jammu and Kashmir since it lost its autonomous status and Statehood — pledged to “keep winning the hearts of Kashmiris”.

Addressing a jam-packed Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar on Thursday, Mr. Modi targeted the Congress and its allies —without naming the National Conference (NC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — over Article 370.   

“Kashmir is touching new heights of progress and prosperity after the abrogation of Article 370. Locals are able to breathe free. This azadi [freedom] has come after Article 370’s removal. For decades, the Congress and its allies misled the people of J&K as well as the country about Article 370,” the Prime Minister said.

‘A new Kashmir’

“This is the new Kashmir we all were awaiting for decades. This is the new Kashmir for which Shyama Prasad Mukherjee sacrificed his life. Your smiling faces are watched in the country right now and will bring satisfaction to all the countrymen,” He told the crowd, claiming that over one lakh people were attending the event.

The Prime Minister said that he considers Kashmir as his parivaar, or family. “Parivaar is always in our hearts and minds. They also consider themselves as parivaar,” he said. 

Stating that Article 370 had only benefited a few politicians and their families, Mr. Modi said, “Kashmir bore the brunt of dynasty politics since Independence. People now know the truth and cannot be fooled anymore. Kashmiris see a new bright beginning in front of them, with equal opportunity. They have equal dignity and rights. Locals benefit from all the laws and pro-poor schemes started by the Centre simultaneously, unlike in the past.”

Watch | The historic shift in Jammu and Kashmir’s status | Explained

Winning hearts

In a bid to strike a chord with all sections of his audience, Mr. Modi wished local residents as well as the rest of the country on the occasion of the upcoming festivals of both Ramzan and Maha Shivratri.

“I am elated by your love and affection. I am indebted to you. Since 2014, I have come here to win your hearts. I think I am going on the right path. I have won your hearts. My efforts will continue to win your hearts. This is Modi’s guarantee,” the Prime Minister said.

He accused past regimes of “almost tanking” the J&K Bank. “They recruited only relatives and broke the bank’s backbone. The mismanagement resulted in losses and the poor man’s money would have drowned. The anti-corruption bureau is taking action against such recruitment. Our government reformed the bank and its profit has touched ₹1,700 crore,” Mr. Modi said.

Boosting tourism

He also interacted with local entrepreneurs and appreciated their work. “The progress of Kashmir is our priority,” the Prime Minister said.  

He announced a ₹1,400 crore impetus for the tourism sector under the Swadesh Darshan and PRASHAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive) schemes, as well as the Hazratbal Shrine project. He also distributed around 1,000 new employment letters to local residents. 

He launched the ‘Chalo India Global Diaspora Campaign’ during the event. “Whether overseas Indians get dollars or pounds does not matter, but they should motivate five people to visit India. This scheme will impact Kashmir’s tourism too. I also urge visitors to buy local and spend a 5% to 10% travel budget to boost the local economy, which could open new opportunities of employment here,” Mr. Modi said, aldo urging Indians to be part of the ‘Wed in Kashmir’ campaign.

The Prime Minister praised the government’s efforts and pledges that resulted in a successful G-20 meeting in Srinagar last year and a record tourist footfall. “Over two crore people visited J&K in 2023, which is a record. Even the number of foreigners visiting Kashmir has gone up. Visitors are making videos and reels, making Kashmir viral online,” he added.

Also Read | Left in awe by scenic beauty and handicrafts, several G-20 delegates pledge to boost Kashmir tourism

Making progress

Mr. Modi announced ₹5,000 crore worth of schemes for the farming sector and promised to increase cold storages and warehouses in the Union Territory. “Kashmir is progressing at a fast pace. There are two AIIMS, seven medical colleges, and two cancer hospitals now. Two Vande Bharat trains ply in Kashmir. Jammu and Srinagar are becoming smart cities and new projects are in the offing,” he said.

The success story of Kashmir is attracting attention world over, he said, adding that Kashmir is now emerging as a winter sports capital. “Around 1,000 athletes from the country participated in the Khelo India Winter Games. There are multi-purpose indoor halls in 17 districts in J&K,” he said.

“There is a historic connection of the lotus with Kashmir. In fact, J&K has a deep relation with lotus as well as the BJP,” the PM said, referring to the nadru (lotus stem), which is cooked in the Valley. 

‘Terror ecosystem dismantled

Speaking on the occasion, J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha highlighted the developmental initiatives taken up in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. “No more youth are hit by pellets or lose their sight. No innocents get killed. Youth have laptops rather than stones in their hands. The ecosystem of terroism has been dismantled. We always said that we will not buy peace but establish peace in Kashmir,” Mr. Sinha said.

He also highlighted the return of late night life in Kashmir. “We have pedestrian markets like Europe and the beautiful Jhelum river front under the Smart City initiative. Not only locals but tourists also visit these places. The tricolour at Lal Chowk is witness to the change in Kashmir,” he added.

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