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India's Modi makes election vow to remove Kashmir's special rights

India's Modi makes election vow to remove Kashmir's special rights
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By Devjyot Ghoshal and Manoj Kumar

NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said on Monday it would remove decades-old special rights for the people of Jammu and 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 Kashmir’s special constitutional status, which prevents outsiders from buying property in the state, 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 Muslim-majority Kashmir, where India is fighting an armed insurgency against its rule, have warned that repealing the law would lead to widespread unrest.

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 regional parties to thwart Modi, accusing the BJP of undermining India’s secular foundations.

INCREASEDINVESTMENT, TAXREFORM

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 100 trillion Indian rupees ($1.44 trillion) 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 1 trillion Indian rupees (11 billion pounds) by 2024, it further said in the manifesto.

(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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