JAMMU - India prime ministerial candidate and Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi promised unity and development on Sunday during a rally in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi, a popular but polarising figure, told a rally of thousands of people that he would work for the good of the whole state through increased development if he wins a general election due next May.

The rally was the first for Modi in the region, racked by years of violence, since he was named as candidate for the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in September.

“I am not here to talk about Hindus and Muslims. If you want progress then you need to have politics of unity and that will ensure progress,” Modi, 63, said in a speech in the Hindu-majority city of Jammu. “We should have only one religion - nation first. There should be only one religious text - our constitution,” he said to cheers.

Security was tight in Jammu with several thousand police and paramilitary forces deployed, according to local police sources.  “Security arrangements were very elaborate, not only in Jammu city but in the whole region,” Inspector General Rajesh Kumar told AFP.

A string of bomb blasts killed six people at a rally by Modi in the eastern city of Patna in October, shortly before he took to the stage. Modi is seen by critics as a divisive figure who failed to stop the 2002 riots in the western state of Gujarat where he has governed as chief minister since 2001.

The riots killed some 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. Modi has denied any wrongdoing.

Since being named prime ministerial candidate, he has been building his image as a pro-business administrator and stressing inclusive politics.

Political leaders in recent weeks have been campaigning across the country in five state elections, which are seen as a litmus test for Modi and the ruling Congress party before the general election.

Vote-counting for all five state elections starts on December 8, with results expected soon after.

In a bid to garner Muslim votes, Modi said that the politics of discrimination in Jammu and Kashmir must end. “The rights that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has, does his sister Sarah Pilot enjoy the same rights? No, because she married outside the state. The women have not been given equal rights in the state unlike in other parts of the country,” Modi said.

Taking a dig at the Congress-led government, Modi said, “If the Centre had woken up after the killing of prisoner Chamel Singh and had raised the issue with Pakistan then possibly Sarabjit Singh’s death could have been averted.”

He also downplayed party’s own stand on Article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir, saying it should be debated whether the constitutional provision has been beneficial for the state and even hinted that it may give up its demand for abrogation if such a view emerges.

Modi went on to say that Kashmiris have been denied rights due to Article 370 and the article has been used as a shield following which various laws made by the Centre were not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.

Taking on the Centre for its China policy, the Gujarat chief minister claimed that China had been distributing free SIM cards to villagers along the border with India. “I want to ask whether our Telecom Ministry can provide the same,” he said.

Modi also spoke about “non-implementation” of the 73rd Amendment providing financial powers to Panchayats and took a veiled dig at the ruling National Conference, saying, “Those who talk about autonomy are not ready to provide the same to their own elected local bodies.”

He accused the state government of indulging in corruption and said the Prevention of Corruption Act is applicable everywhere other than Jammu and Kashmir.

“For 60 years they talked about separate state (autonomy) but what did people get? Nothing and there is no accountability also. In the name of separate state, they encouraged separatism. “It would have been better if they focused on creating a super state,” he said.

“Tourism is suffering in Jammu and Kashmir. Tourists are going to Himachal Pradesh,” he stressed.

Modi referred to Bollywood celebrating its 100 years and said, “A lot of films were shot here. Why could J&K not get a film institute? Sadly they are not interested in development and progress.”