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SOURCE: HT

Jammu and Kashmir, which has witnessed restrictions since the Centre’s August 5 decision to withdraw its autonomy, will return to normal within four months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Maharashtra on Sunday, while launching his party’s election campaign in the western state with a sharp attack on the Opposition bloc of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

In Jalgaon, he accused the Opposition of “politicising” the central government’s “unprecedented” decision to nullify Article 370, which gave special status to the militancy-hit state, and asked the Congress and the NCP to clear their stand on the issue that has triggered an intense debate.

The situation that “existed for the last 40 years, it won’t even take four months to be made normal,” he said, “We are committed to bringing normalcy back in the border state.”

“You look at the statements made by Congress, NCP of late… They seem to be speaking on lines of the neighbouring country,” Modi said, apparently referring to Pakistan, which has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

Islamabad, led by its Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has taken up the matter with world leaders, alleging New Delhi’s decision will disrupt regional peace and violate rights of residents of the region. India says the issue is its internal matter, and the decision has been taken for the development of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh areas.

Sharpening his attack on the opposition parties, Modi said, “I challenge them…[to] declare in their manifesto for state election and future polls that they will bring back Article 370 and 35A [which defined who can hold land in Jammu and Kashmir]…that they will change the August 5 decision.”

Opposition parties have criticised the lockdown, which was imposed hours before Union home minister Amit Shah moved a resolution in Parliament to nullify Article 370 of the Constitution and introduced a bill to divide the state into two Union Territories — J&K, and Ladakh. Rivals of the Centre and Maharashtra’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also criticised the detention of political leaders, including former chief ministers.

The government says it has taken steps to maintain security. Several curbs, including those on movement, have been eased, but mobile telephone and internet connections in the Kashmir valley remain cut off. Some mobile phone connections are set to be restored on Monday.

Modi also praised the Devendra Fadnavis-led state government for its five-year performance, which, he said, was “corruption-free” and inspired confidence among all, including farmers and industries.

In another election rally at Sakoli in Bhandara district of Vidarbha, Modi urged voters to choose the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra to ensure a stable, clean, pro-people and development-oriented government, which will ensure development of the economically downtrodden and marginal sections of the society.

Maharashtra’s 244 assembly seats, along with Haryana’s 90, go to polls on October 21.Results will be out on October 24.

Amidst thunderous applause in Jalgaon, Modi said there was “no difference” between what the BJP-led government promised and practised. The abrogation of Article 370 was one of the promises made by the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

He also “thanked” the people for reposing their faith in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, saying their votes for an “able and strong New India” in the Lok Sabha elections will help the country attain the place it deserves in the world.

Earlier it was “unthinkable” that such a decision (on Kashmir) could be taken, Modi said, and noted that only separatism and terrorism had spread in Jammu and Kashmir over the years.

He also hit out at the Opposition over the issue of banning triple talaq. “But, I kept the promise made to Muslim mothers and sisters,” he said, and also dared the Opposition “to bring back the practice of triple talaq”.

In Delhi, senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi hit back at Modi. “It hardly behoves the PM of the country to throw such a challenge to other parties even if it’s a political speech. What we had to say on each of these issues (Article 370 and tripe talaq), we have stated very clearly in Parliament debates. We certainly don’t want to decimate personal liberties of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. So, reciprocally, I would dare the PM to remove restrictions on the personal liberties of the common people.”

Back in Maharashtra, Modi also referred to a video clip purportedly featuring NCP chief Sharad Pawar and alleged that he elbowed away a party worker as he was being garlanded at a poll rally in Akola. The PM, however, did not name Pawar.

In the video clip, Pawar was purportedly seen being honoured with a big garland by NCP workers. At the same time, a party worker tried to get into the garland and was allegedly nudged by Pawar.

“I don’t know whether the clip is genuine or not…such a big leader whose photos appeared in newspapers all these years, who was seen on TV, but he has such a small heart that he elbowed the young man (the worker) as he tried to get inside (the garland),” Modi said. BJP president Amit Shah, meanwhile, praised the “man with 56-inch chest” in the PM Modi for nullifying Article 370 and integrating J&K with the mainstream.