NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday hailed his "path-breaking" move to strip Kashmir of its autonomy, as his Pakistani counterpart warned of possible "ethnic cleansing".
Parts of Kashmir that India controls - it is split with arch-rival Pakistan - have been under lockdown since Aug 4, with freedom of movement restricted and phones and the Internet cut off.
A day later, New Delhi scrapped Article 370 in the Constitution that had granted Kashmir special status, splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir in two and downgrading them to union territories.
In a speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in Delhi for Indian Independence Day, Mr Modi said the decision was one of several "path-breaking" moves by his newly re-elected administration.
He said "fresh thinking" was needed after seven decades of failure to ensure harmony in the picturesque but tragic former Himalayan kingdom, where tens of thousands have died in the past 30 years. "We do not believe in creating problems or prolonging them. In less than 70 days of the new government, Article 370 has become history. And in both Houses of Parliament, two-thirds of the members supported this step," he said.
"The old arrangement in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh encouraged corruption and nepotism, as well as injustice when it came to rights of women, children, (low-caste) Dalits, tribal communities," Mr Modi added.
New Delhi, fearing unrest over its latest move, has sent tens of thousands of extra troops to Kashmir - joining 500,000 already there - turning parts of the main city of Srinagar into a fortress of roadblocks and barbed wire.
Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, where the main Independence Day ceremonies were held in Srinagar, was cordoned off by security personnel, with drones and helicopters monitoring the area.
Singapore leaders congratulate India
President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday sent letters congratulating the government of India on the nation's 73rd Independence Day.
In her letter to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, Madam Halimah said: "Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between Singapore and India 54 years ago, bilateral relations have grown from strength to strength, buttressed by deep historical and cultural linkages, extensive cooperation in many areas and close people-to-people ties.
"With unity of purpose and minds, I am confident that our two countries can build on this enduring foundation to achieve greater heights."
Mr Lee said India had made remarkable progress since independence. "Today you stand proudly on the world stage, brimming with innovation, talent and ideas. As we join India in celebrating this auspicious occasion, I also take great satisfaction in the excellent ties between our countries," Mr Lee said in his letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik hoisted an Indian flag and inspected a police guard of honour, with India's national security adviser Ajit Doval looking on. There were few locals at the ceremony, with most of the spectators from the government or security forces, an Agence France-Presse reporter in Srinagar said.
Mr Modi's 90-minute speech ended with him leading chants of "Jai Hind" ("Long live India") as schoolchildren dressed in the saffron, white and green of the Indian flag stood in attendance, before a rendition of the national anthem.