India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to make his first visit to Jammu and Kashmir after his government stripped the tense disputed region’s autonomy and divided it into two federally run territories.
Officials from Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party said he will visit Jammu city on April 24, where he will meet representatives of local elected bodies and lay foundations for various developmental projects.
“He is going to interact with peoples’ representatives like panchayat [village council] and district development members,” Girdhari Lal Raina, a BJP representative in the region, told The National.
“The final programme has not been declared yet but the visit is confirmed."
The official trip will be Mr Modi’s first to the region after his government revoked the erstwhile state’s autonomy and carved out separate union territories Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in August 2019.
The move sparked a diplomatic tussle between India and Pakistan, who rule the territory in parts but claim it in its entirety.
The region, particularly the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley, is in the grip of a more than three-decade-old rebellion against New Delhi’s rule in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
India claims Kashmir as an “integral” part, while Pakistan demands that a plebiscite be held as per United Nations Security Council resolutions.
New Delhi had granted special constitutional guarantees to the state after the local king acceded to India in 1947, on the condition that the region would retain some degree of autonomy, including barring non-locals from acquiring immovable properties in the region.
But after Mr Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP won a second term in office in 2019, it unilaterally and controversially struck down the special status and said the decision was the correction of a “historical blunder”.
The government's move has been challenged in the Supreme Court but a hearing into the case has yet to begin.
New Delhi also dissolved the local assembly and appointed an administrator to run the restive region with an iron-hand policy against “anti-India” elements.
Mr Modi’s government has promised to hold local elections in the region, however, it ordered the redrawing of legislative boundaries that critics say is aimed at handing an advantage to the BJP.
No dates have been finalised for elections in the territories.
The government has assured that the status of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored at an opportune time.
But Ladakh — an area of rugged Himalayan desert bordering China, will remain under the direct control of New Delhi.