"Nationalism is our inspiration," Prime Minister Modi says at the release of the BJP's election manifesto. Modi's BJP consistently advocates ending disputed Kashmir's special status, which prevents outsiders from buying property in the region.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Amit Shah, display copies of their party's election manifesto for the April/May general election in New Delhi, India, April 8, 2019.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Amit Shah, display copies of their party's election manifesto for the April/May general election in New Delhi, India, April 8, 2019. (Reuters)

India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said on Monday it would remove decades-old special rights for the people of India-administered-Kashmir, making an election promise that could provoke a backlash in the country's volatile only Muslim majority state.

"Nationalism is our inspiration," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the release of the BJP's election manifesto at the party headquarters in New Delhi.

Modi's BJP has consistently advocated ending disputed Kashmir's special constitutional status, which prevents outsiders from buying property in the region, arguing that such laws have hindered its integration with the rest of the country.

"We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state," the BJP manifesto said, referring to the 1954 amendment to the constitution.

Political leaders in India-administered Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state where it is fighting an armed rebellion against its rule, have warned that repealing the law would lead to widespread unrest.

Kashmiris say the removal of 35A will trigger a demographic change as BJP will try to allow settlers in what they call the "Israeli model" which will favour Indian rule in the region.

Voting in the general election begins on Thursday but, with around 900 million people eligible to vote, the polls will be held around the country over coming weeks, and the votes will be counted on May 23.

Modi has made his strong stance on national security a key part of the BJP's election campaign, following a recent flare up in tensions with arch foe Pakistan, which also lays claims to Kashmir.

Surveys suggest the BJP is the front-runner going into the election, although some have said it could lose the clear majority it won five years ago.

The main opposition Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi is seeking alliances with region al parties to thwart Modi, accusing the BJP of undermining India's secular foundations.

In its manifesto released earlier this month, Congress made a pledge to amend a law that gives special powers to armed forces battling the the rebellion in Kashmir, in a bid to balance security needs and human rights concerns.

Congress leaders later gave details that the amendments pertained to reviewing the immunity granted to security forces only in cases of enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture.

India and Pakistan each claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Militants have been fighting Indian control since 1989.

Most Kashmiris support the militants' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian administration.

About 70,000 people have been killed in the struggle for control of Kashmir.

India has an estimated 500,000 soldiers in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan and riven by unrest since the end of British rule in 1947.

Increased investment, tax reform

The manifesto also seeks to counter voter discontent over a lack of jobs and low farm incomes, which have resulted in protests across the country.

The BJP promised a capital investment of $1.44 trillion (100 trillion Indian rupees) on infrastructure by 2024, to help create jobs for the millions of youth entering the workforce every year.

The party also pledged to simplify the goods and services tax, which disrupted businesses and hurt economic growth when Modi introduced it in 2017.

The party would work towards lowering the tax rate and raise credit to small businesses to $14.39 billion (1 trillion Indian rupees) by 2024, it further said in the manifesto.

Source: Reuters