India's Modi seeks to woo Kashmiri voters

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 08, 2014 12:56 AM

By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday headed to disputed Kashmir to rally support for his party's bid to win a state election, following several militant attacks blamed on Pakistan-based groups.

Tension has risen in the Himalayan region after 11 soldiers and police were killed in an attack on an Indian army camp, prompting a call for Pakistan to do more to stop militants from crossing the militarized border that divides Kashmir.

Modi and military officials said the attack, one of several last week, was aimed at disrupting the state election, which drew a record turnout of 70 percent of Kashmiris in its first two phases. Separatists had called for a boycott.

Modi will take his campaign into Srinagar, the state capital and the heart of the 25-year revolt against Indian rule.

About 3,000 paramilitary troops, accompanied by sniffer dogs, stood guard around a cricket stadium where Modi is scheduled to speak. Militants have in the past tried to stage attacks during visits by Indian leaders.

"The security grid is in place," an army official, Lieutenant-General Subrata Saha, told reporters. "It won't be appropriate for me to say anything more than that."

Modi has offered Kashmiris new jobs and smart cities in the hope of ending the revolt and tying the Muslim-majority region closer to India.

His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has long advocated ending Kashmir's special constitutional status and the territory is central to its vision of a strong, united India.

The party is banking on votes in the Hindu-dominated region of Jammu, Buddhist Ladakh and independents in Kashmir to seize power.

Pakistan says the election is meaningless and instead calls for talks to resolve the dispute that has poisoned ties between the neighbors ever since independence from Britain in 1947.

(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)