The decision by Narendra Modi’s recently re-elected government to remove Kashmir, the Himalayan region’s special status under the Indian Constitution, has been described as a statement of intent and ideology.
India on Monday, August 5th, revoked the special status of Kashmir, the Himalayan region that has long been a flashpoint in ties with neighboring Pakistan, moving to grasp its only Muslim-majority region more tightly.
In the most far-reaching political move in one of the world’s most militarized regions in nearly seven decades, India said it would scrap a constitutional provision that allows its state of Jammu and Kashmir to make its own laws.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it a ‘momentous occasion’ and said, “Together we are, together we shall rise and together we will fulfill the dreams of 130 crore Indians.” Modi said Jammu and Kashmir is now free from the shackles of “vested interest groups”, who believed in emotional blackmail and never cared for people’s empowerment. He lauded people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh for their courage and resilience. “A new dawn, better tomorrow awaits,” Modi wrote on Twitter.
“The entire constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir,” Home Minister Amit Shah told India’s Parliament, as opposition lawmakers voiced loud protests against the repeal.
The government has also decided to split the state into two federal territories, one formed by Jammu and Kashmir, and the other consisting of the enclave of Ladakh, citing internal security considerations. Turning the state into a federal territory allows Delhi to exert greater control.
As the predominantly Hindu India’s only Muslim majority state, adherents of the country’s secular tradition of politics have long seen Kashmir’s continuing inclusion within the vast democracy as evidence that all faiths can thrive together. This contrasts India’s immense religious diversity with neighboring Pakistan’s strong Muslim identity.
But for Hindu nationalists such as Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the privileges granted by article 370 of the constitution to Kashmir were concessions that a strong India united under their saffron banner no longer needed to make.
The provisions for Kashmir have their origin in the deal made when the former princedom opted to join India in the immediate aftermath of its independence from Britain in 1947. Introduced decades ago, the constitutional provisions reserved government jobs and college places for Kashmir’s residents, among other limits aiming to keep people from other parts of the country from overrunning the state.
Their sudden cancellation will have consequences that are difficult to predict. The issue of Kashmir is fiercely emotive in neighboring Pakistan, which has fought three full-scale wars with India, two over the disputed province.
Both the Houses of Parliament gave the go-ahead to immediately scrap Article 370, a historical provision that had extended a special status to Jammu and Kashmir for nearly seven decades, and carve two union territories out of the Himalayan state. The two changes that would bring the state under the direct control of the Centre, the government insists, would help curb terrorism backed by Pakistan and fast track development.
India lifted a ban on property purchases by non-residents, opening the way for Indians to invest and settle there, just as they can elsewhere in India, although the measure is likely to provoke a backlash in the region.
Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir, said it strongly condemned the decision, which is bound to further strain ties between the nuclear-armed rivals. “As the party to this international dispute, Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
Islamabad issued a terse statement that it would “exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps” and that the region was internationally recognized as a disputed territory. Leading Pakistani politicians spoke of Kashmir as their country’s jugular vein.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, convulsed by a nearly 30-year armed revolt in which tens of thousands of people have died, with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops deployed to quell it. India blames that rebellion on Pakistan, which denies the accusation, saying that it backs the right to self-determination for Kashmir.
Hours earlier the Indian government launched a security crackdown in the region, arresting local leaders, suspending telephone and internet services and restricting public movement in the main city of Srinagar.
Regional leaders have previously said stripping Kashmir’s special status amounts to aggression against its people. The streets in Srinagar were largely deserted as travel curbs kept people indoors, said a Reuters photographer who found a telephone connection in a restaurant near the city’s airport. There was heavy deployment of security forces across Srinagar, but no signs of protest.
“Politically, it’s advantage BJP,” said Happymon Jacob, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the Indian capital. “The scrapping of Article 370 of the constitution is likely to set off a slew of political, constitutional and legal battles, not to speak of the battles on the streets of Kashmir.”
“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” said one of the leaders placed under house arrest, Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. “It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent,” she said in a post on Twitter.
India’s interior ministry ordered all states to put security forces on “maximum alert” to maintain public order and quash the spread of any rumors. Tension had risen in Kashmir since Friday, when Indian officials issued an alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups. Pakistan rejected those assertions, but thousands of alarmed Indians left the region over the weekend.
US says no change in its policy on Kashmir
The US has said that there has been no change in its policy on Kashmir and reiterated its call for India and Pakistan to maintain “calm and restraint”, amid heightening tensions between the two neighbours after New Delhi revoked special status for Jammu and Kashmir.
When asked by reporters on Thursday if there has been any change in the Trump administration’s policy on Kashmir, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus replied: “No.”
“And if there was, I certainly wouldn’t be announcing it here, but no, there’s not,” Ortagus said in response to a follow-up question during a press briefing.
“I mean, I think obviously this is something that we watch incredibly closely. It’s something that we’ve called for calm and restraint by all parties. We want to main peace and stability, and we, of course, support direct – the direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern.”
Responding to a question on Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement that “India was carrying out a genocide in Kashmir”, Ortagus said that the US urges the rule of law, respect for human rights and respect for international norms.
“Yeah, I mean, I really don’t want to go beyond what we’ve said, because it’s such a tenuous issue. It’s something that we’re talking to them about quite closely. We obviously, whenever it comes to – whenever it comes to any region in the world where there are tensions, we ask for people to observe the rule of law, respect for human rights, respect for international norms. We ask people to maintain peace and security and direct dialogue.
“There are reports, as you’ve mentioned, of detentions and restrictions of residents in Jammu and Kashmir. And again, that’s why we continue to monitor this very, very closely,” she added.
The spokesperson reiterated that the US was neither consulted nor informed by India about its decision to scrap Articles 370 and 35A of its Constitution. “There was no heads up given,” she said. The US urged for peace and stability along the Line of Control.
The statement read: “We are closely following the events in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We take note of India’s announcement revising the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and India’s plan to split the state into two union territories.
“We note that the Indian government has described these actions as strictly an internal matter. We are concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with those in affected communities. We call on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control,” the statement said.