Kashmir fight adds to hurdles for PM Modi’s reform push

Srinagar: A ruckus over the release from prison of Masarat Alam Bhat, the man who led the most serious revolt in decades against the Indian military in Kashmir, is adding to mounting problems for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he tries to push economic reform through parliament.

The Lok Sabha was temporarily adjourned on Monday after opposition parties demanded to know why the separatist leader was released at the weekend by Kashmir’s state government, which Modi’s nationalist party supports.

“I am angered and condemn the release, just like other lawmakers,” Modi said in parliament. “I can assure you that my government was not informed about the decision by the state government and neither were we consulted.”

Modi swept to office ten months ago promising rapid economic transformation but disparate opposition parties have united to block his agenda, forcing the government to rely on executive orders called ordinances to pass unpopular policies.

With two weeks remaining of the current session of parliament before a recess, the government needs to win support for ordinances, including those raising the foreign direct investment limit in the insurance sector, or they will expire.

Under pressure from investors and voters to perform, the government is considering calling a rare joint session of parliament to push through market-friendly laws.

“The clock is ticking for the government,” deputy finance minister Jayant Sinha said in an interview with Mint newspaper published on Monday.

Modi has a majority in the lower house of parliament but needs cross party support in the upper house.

The opposition stalled proceedings in both houses to protest the release of Bhat, accused of orchestrating 2010 protests by Kashmiris demanding independence from Indian rule that led to weeks of clashes. More than 100 people were shot by Indian troops.

Bhat’s release is an embarrassment for Modi’s Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP), which for the first time has a role in ruling the Muslim majority state after forming an unlikely coalition.

The Hindu nationalist BJP wants to bring the contested region into the Indian mainstream, while its regional partner, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), supports self rule.

Bhat said in an interview with Reuters on Sunday that even though he had been released from jail, his life was not much better because Kashmir resembled a prison because of the heavy military presence.

Kashmir is a longtime source of dispute between India and Pakistan, with both countries controlling different parts of the region and claiming all of it.