Modi Campaigns in Indian Kashmir

Modi Campaigns  in Indian Kashmir Modi Campaigns  in Indian Kashmir

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told voters Monday not to be intimidated against casting ballots in Indian Kashmir’s state elections after a string of attacks, as he hit the campaign trail in the Muslim-majority region.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist party is making an unprecedented bid for power in the troubled Himalayan region, where tensions are high following the killing of 11 soldiers and police in a series of assaults last Friday, according to the AFP.

But speaking at an election rally in the south of the state, Modi said voters should not be scared off by the attacks which India blames on Pakistan-backed militant groups.

Modi was due to travel north to the main city of Srinagar which was under virtual lockdown, with thousands of extra troops deployed.

He will first visit the army’s headquarters in Srinagar and then address supporters from his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are confident of making an unlikely breakthrough in the state.

The BJP has traditionally had no base in the Kashmir Valley, where local resentment against Indian rule runs high.

But Modi’s landslide win in national elections in May on a pledge to revive the economy, along with a meltdown in support for the Kashmir chief minister after deadly September floods, have lifted the BJP’s hopes.

The party has been campaigning aggressively in the state, promising stability and development.

Picturesque Kashmir -- divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both -- has seen a surge in violence during the staggered elections for the local legislature.

The first two rounds saw turnout reach more than 70 percent as voters ignored calls for a boycott, but Tuesday’s voting will be the first since last week’s attacks.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir. About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces for independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan since 1989.

Separatist groups called for a general strike to mark Modi’s arrival in Srinagar, saying the people of Kashmir would “never relinquish their demand for self-determination”.

The BJP has taken an aggressive line on the separatists.

Shops and offices were closed ahead of Modi’s arrival in Srinagar, and residents of the old city said they were under police curfew.