New Delhi, 5 August 2019 (dpa/MIA) – The Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status on Monday in a decree that was condemned as illegal by Pakistan and marking one of the most significant steps taken in the disputed Himalayan region in seven decades.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which confers special status on India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir and gives it a certain amount of autonomy, has been removed via an order signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament.
Jammu and Kashmir would be “reorganized” into federally administered territories, Shah said, prompting protests from Indian opposition lawmakers who opposed the surprise move.
The decree was put up on the government’s website soon after his announcement, and officials said it would come into force immediately. India’s upper house of parliament later approved a resolution backing the decree and a bill paving the way for the state’s reorganization.
The controversial move followed days of uncertainty amid a massive build-up of troops in the region, as well as the midnight house arrest of top Kashmiri politicians, including former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.
The region remains under lock-down to prevent protests and violence. Internet services and phone lines have been suspended, educational institutions and offices are closed, and groups have been banned from large gatherings. New Delhi also ordered evacuations of tourists and Hindu pilgrims in recent days.
The decision is expected to spark unrest and escalate tensions with Pakistan. India and Pakistan administer separate portions of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.
Pakistan condemned the “illegal step” and warned it will exercise all possible options to counter the move, noting that the region’s status was protected by UN Security Council resolutions.
“No unilateral step by the government of India can change this disputed status … Nor will this ever be acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan,” Pakistan‘s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Anticipating trouble in the region after the announcement, New Delhi reportedly moved another 8,000 paramilitary troops to the region on Monday, in addition to nearly 35,000 moved there over the past week.
Article 370 permits Kashmir its own constitution, a separate flag, and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense, and telecommunications. It was the basis under which the former princely state acceded to India when it was partitioned in 1947.
Domestic media reported that the state would now be broken into two federally administered territories: Jammu and Kashmir, as well as Ladakh. Ladakh would not have a legislature, while Jammu and Kashmir would have one.
“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” Kashmir’s former chief minister Mufti tweeted. The “unilateral” decision was “illegal and unconstitutional [and] will make India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir,” she added.
Indian legal experts, in interviews with domestic channels, said the decree could be open to a court challenge as the government should have first consulted Kashmir’s state assembly. The assembly has been suspended since a coalition government collapsed last year.
But noted constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said he expected the decree will stand legal scrutiny, telling the ANI news agency that it had been carefully planned by the government and “no legal and constitutional fault can be found in it.”
Article 370 has long been contentious in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had opposed the special status for the state for decades and had included striking down the article as part of its election manifesto.
The resolution, backing the decree that revoked article 370 of the Indian Constitution, was adopted by a voice vote Monday evening.
The upper house, or Rajya Sabha, also approved by 125 to 61 a bill paving the way for a reorganization of the state.
The bill and resolution will now go to the powerful lower house, or Lok Sabha, where their approval is a mere formality since the ruling BJP enjoys a strong majority there.
The ruling party argues that scrapping the law will help complete the integration of Kashmir with India. The article forbade non-Kashmiris and Indians from permanently settling, buying land, getting state jobs or education scholarships.
But Kashmiri politicians view the move as an attempt to alter the demographic character of Muslim-majority Kashmir by bringing in Hindu settlers.
The de-facto border dividing Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir has seen frequent skirmishes between the forces of both countries.
The region has also faced a bloody insurgency against authorities in India-administered Kashmir since the late 1980s, with thousands of lives lost.
India claims Pakistan aids and abets militancy in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies. It calls the militants freedom fighters.