March 9, 2015 / 10:13 AM / 4 years ago

Kashmir fight adds to hurdles for Modi's reform push

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A ruckus over the release from prison of a man who led one of the biggest revolts 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.

Masarat Alam Bhat (2nd R), a Kashmiri separatist leader, speaks on his mobile phone at his residence in Srinagar March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

The Lok Sabha was temporarily adjourned on Monday after opposition parties demanded to know why separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat was released at the weekend by Kashmir’s state government, which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supports.

“I am angered and condemn the release, just like other lawmakers,” Modi said in parliament.”

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 Lok Sabha but needs cross party support in Rajya Sabha.

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 months of clashes. More than 100 people were shot by Indian troops.

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

Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament he has asked for a fresh report from the state government on why it relased Bhat, who has 27 criminal cases registered against him.

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 and claiming all.

Writing by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Nick Macfie

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