India’s prime minister promised peace and development for Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, during his first public event in the disputed territory since it imposed a sweeping security clampdown nearly three years ago.
Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has sought to quell a long-running insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir and strengthen its hold over the Muslim-majority region, which is also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan.
India nullified the area’s limited autonomy in August 2019, when authorities arrested thousands and imposed the world’s longest internet shutdown, seeking to forestall local opposition to the move.
Tight security was in place for Modi’s appearance at Palli village in Jammu, the Hindu-majority southern part of the territory, which celebrated New Delhi’s introduction of direct rule as a defence against Kashmir’s separatist movement.
As he inaugurated new road and hydropower projects, Modi told the gathered crowd of thousands that his government had put the restive region on the path to prosperity.
“I want to tell the youth of the valley that they will not have to face the difficulties and travails that their parents and grandparents had to deal with,” Modi said.
Sunday’s event marked Panchayati Raj, a day that commemorates grassroots democracy – although Kashmir has been without an elected regional government since 2018.
Its last chief minister was detained during the clampdown and only released more than a year later.
Modi’s government has long said its decision to end Kashmir’s limited autonomy was aimed at fostering a lasting peace and bringing investment into the troubled region, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the years.
Today, it is the most militarised part of India, with more than half a million soldiers and paramilitaries deployed across the fractious territory.
Police say violence has declined since Kashmir’s status was changed, but almost 1,000 people have been killed since 2019 – among them soldiers, militants and civilians.
Young men continue to join rebel groups that have fought Indian rule of Kashmir for more than three decades.
Militants threw grenades at a bus carrying security forces on Friday, killing an officer, in an incident around 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the venue of Modi’s public appearance.
Two suspected rebels were killed in the ensuing firefight with security forces.