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India's Modi meets incoming Kashmir leader after deal

NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi and Kashmir’s incoming chief minister put the finishing touches Friday on a deal that will see the premier’s Hindu nationalists enter government in India’s only Muslim-majority state for the first time.

Modi and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed held around 90 minutes’ of talks to discuss the programme and make-up of their parties’ coalition ahead of its expected swearing-in on Sunday.

“This is a historic opportunity to unite hearts and minds of the people in the state,” Sayeed, expected to be the new chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, told reporters after meeting the prime minister in New Delhi.

Both men are expected to attend Sunday’s inauguration in Jammu, the Himalayan region’s winter capital, which is taking place some two months after the inconclusive results from elections to the state assembly.

The elections were marred by a number of deadly attacks in a region that is divided between India and Pakistan, and claimed by both.

The coalition agenda will only be unveiled on Sunday but won’t include any reference to scrapping a constitutional provision which allows Kashmir to make its own laws, even though Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has long been committed to its abolition.

The PDP has been demanding the removal of a draconian law that gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight in Kashmir and is seen by critics as a cover for rights abuses.

The BJP has said the law was needed to halt insurgents fighting for Kashmir’s independence or for its merger with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead.

The BJP won 25 out of the 87 seats at the elections to Kashmir’s state assembly in December — a major increase on its previous showings — but it still came slightly behind the PDP which took 28.

Modi’s party largely cleaned up in the Jammu region, which is the only part of the state to be mainly Hindu, but the PDP dominated in the Kashmir valley where separatist sentiment has traditionally been strongest.

Both parties also benefited from widespread discontent at the state’s then-ruling National Conference party, over its handling of devastating floods that killed more than 200 people in Kashmir in September.

As coalition talks dragged and the outgoing chief minister Omar Abdullah declined to remain at the helm, the state was placed under New Delhi’s direct rule in January.-AFP

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