SRINAGAR - Kashmiris Thursday protested as India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked the festival of Diwali with a visit to the Held Kashmir region.

“Today India sleeps peacefully because you stay awake day and night,” Modi told the soldiers based in the remote Siachen glacier at what has been dubbed the world’s highest battleground.

“Indian soldiers are respected across the world for their discipline and determination... I assure the soldiers of my country whether they are at the border or in a cantonment, the country of 1.25 billion Indians stand with you.”

Modi’s visit comes after a recent flare-up in violence in Kashmir, with at least 20 civilian dying in cross-border skirmishes earlier this month amid mutual recriminations over who provoked the firing.  More than 200 demonstrators rallied in Azad Kashmir on Thursday to protest against Modi’s visit to the region, chanting anti-India slogans and burning an Indian flag. “Modi’s visit on the eve of Diwali is religious extremism and rubs salt in the wounds of Kashmiri flood victims,” said one placard in reference to the devastation wrought by deadly floods in the region last month. More than 450 people were killed in India and Pakistan when the floods swept through Kashmir.

Authorities in Indian Held Kashmir has been heavily criticised for its response to the flooding and shopkeepers were observing a strike on Thursday in the main city of Srinagar to mark Modi’s visit. After landing in the late afternoon, Modi met with top state government officials, leaders of political parties and aid workers.  Several families affected by the floods waited to meet the prime minister outside the governor’s mansion where the meeting was taking place.

Meanwhile, Modi on Thursday announced a 7.5 billion rupee ($120 million) relief package for flood-hit Kashmir as his Bharatiya Janata Party seeks to expand support beyond the mainly Hindu lowlands of Jammu.

Modi’s visit to the flood affected state on Diwali - the Indian festival of lights - comes in the build up to elections in the affected state of Jammu and Kashmir by the end of the year. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands of villages were devastated by the worst flooding in decades in the Kashmir valley, a mainly Muslim region with a history of separatist violence.

Modi announced 5.7 billion rupees in assistance for housing and 1.8 billion rupees to fix six major hospitals in the state that are in poor condition and need immediate federal support, a government statement said.

‘India shares the grief of Jammu and Kashmir. The government stands with the people in rehabilitation efforts,’ Modi said. Modi last month announced a first round of central assistance of 10 billion rupees for the state. Thursday’s relief package is a fraction of the state’s demand for a package of around 150 billion rupees for 350,000 structures including more than 250,000 houses damaged in the floods.

‘We were expecting more from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What is it? Just, peanuts. The loss due to floods is huge. It is a cruel joke for us people,’ Mushtaq Ahmad, whose house collapsed in the floods, told Reuters. In the next state elections, the BJP wants to oust regional leader Omar Abdullah, who was allied to the Congress-led government that was defeated in the national election in May.

Indian media said that Modi, who was making his second trip to Srinagar since the floods, was likely to pledge more aid to help rebuild the city.

Provincial polls are scheduled to take place before the end of the year and Modi’s visit has been dismissed by opponents as an election stunt.

But Omar Abdullah, Kashmir’s chief minister who is battling to fend off a a challenge from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, defended Modi’s visit.

“Let’s just appreciate that (Modi) is in Srinagar on his festival & not at home celebrating as he normally would have been doing,” Abdullah wrote on Twitter.

Many observers believe that the elections are likely to be postponed as a result of the floods.