New Delhi: Embarking on a massive outreach to people of Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday promised all-round development, early and transparent elections and an end to terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, as he stoutly defended the scrapping of its special status as a historic step to usher in a "new era".
Reaching out to Kashmiris with messages of hope and optimism, he said Article 370 that granted the special status has yielded nothing but separatism, corruption, family rule and was used by Pakistan as a tool to spread terror in the border state.
In a televised address to the nation three days after his government's bold and far-reaching decision, Modi also sought to assuage concerns of the people after his government bifurcated the state into two union territories-Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh--saying he was sure J&K will not remain a UT for long.
With the Kashmir Valley reeling under security clampdown, Modi assured the people that the situation will gradually return to normal and said the government is making all sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid which falls on Monday.
"I want to assure friends of J&K that the situation will gradually return to normalcy and their difficulties will ease," he said, in his nearly 40-minute address, days ahead of his Independence Day speech on August 15.
Putting up a strong defence of scrapping the provisions of Article 370, Modi asserted that the region's special status offered it nothing but separatism, terrorism, corruption and family rule, while giving a handle to Pakistan to push its divisive agenda.
"We all want that in future J&K assembly elections take place, a new government is formed, new energetic youths become MLAs, ministers and chief minister. I assure people of J&K that with all honesty and in a transparent atmosphere, you will get an opportunity to elect your representatives soon," he said.
Modi also said his government respects objections of those who are opposed to the decision and was working to address them. He, however, asked them to put national interests supreme and help government in giving Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh a new direction.
"Removal of Article 370 is a reality, and it was a well thought out decision," Modi said.
Laying out a development agenda for Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh, Modi expressed confidence of rooting out terrorism and separatism under the new system of governance.
"The dream of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and crores of Indians has now been fulfiled," he said.
The prime minister also asserted that no one has been able to justify how the Article 370 and Article 35A was benefitting people of J&K.
Attacking Pakistan, which has termed India's move as "unilateral and illegal" and strongly protested by downgrading diplomatic ties, Modi said Pakistan used Article 370 as a "tool to spread terrorism".
"In last three decades, over 42,000 people lost their lives," he said, adding "we will rid J&K of terrorism and separatism under new measures."
He also said over 1.5 crore people of J&K were being denied benefits of legislations meant for the entire country.
Spelling out his government's development plans for J&K, he said government employees including police will soon get benefits on par with employees of other Union Territories and all vacant posts in J&K, and Ladakh will be filled, creating employment opportunities.
He also assured people of J&K that they will soon get the opportunity to elect their representatives in a transparent way.
"As J&K will see more and more development. I do not think it will remain Union Territory for long. Ladakh will remain the UT," Modi said.
Modi exhorted the film industry to start shooting films in Jammu and Kashmir again, saying as the situation returns to normal, crews not only from India but abroad too will descend on the picturesque state.
The BJP hailed Modi's "inspiring" address to the nation but the opposition Congress said it was "hardly reassuring" for the people and lacked conviction.
BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the prime minister shared his vision and commitment for the development of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh region and and urged them "to be a part of this historic journey".
Earlier this week, the Union government revoked provisions of Article 370 to take away the state's special status and bifurcated the region into two UTs --Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.