Hours after a massive security clampdown in the state, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament Monday that the president had signed a decree abolishing Article 370 that allowed the state to make its own laws and have independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defense and communications.
The provision also barred Indians from outside the state from permanently settling, buying land and holding local government jobs.
His announcement was met with massive protests from opposition parties, who slammed the move as “unconstitutional.”
The new measures would effectively put New Delhi in charge of the violence scarred region, which since 1989 has witnessed a separatist uprising that has left tens of thousands dead.
More troops were airlifted to the state, where 10,000 additional paramilitary forces were deployed last week as speculation and uncertainty had mounted over an impending announcement on Kashmir’ special status.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has long asserted that special provisions for Kashmir should be scrapped so that the region can be integrated with the rest of India. The party’s lawmakers hailed the decision as “historic.”
But Kashmiri local politicians, who had warned against such a step, slammed the move and vowed to protect the region’s “identity.” They fear that opening up the state to people from the rest of the country could change the demography of India’s only Muslim majority region. Muslims make up more than two thirds of the population.
The head of the National Conference party in Kashmir, Omar Abdullah called it “an aggression against people of J&K (Jammu and Kashmir)” and said the government had resorted to “stealth.” He was one of the three leaders placed under house arrest in Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, hours ahead of the controversial announcement.
Former Chief Minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, said the government’s decision would make India an occupational force in the state and would have catastrophic consequences for the state. “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J@K leadership to reject two nation theory in 1947 and align with India has backfired,” she tweeted.
Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of J&K leadership to reject 2 nation theory in 1947 & align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of GOI to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) August 5, 2019
A Congress Party leader from Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said scrapping laws would not achieve integration because people’s trust had been betrayed instead of being won.
Hours ahead of the announcement, Kashmir was in a virtual lockdown – internet services were suspended, restrictions placed on public movements, educational institutions shut and visitors and pilgrims evacuated and thousands more troops ordered into the region. In recent days authorities had asked pilgrims and tourists to leave the region. As panic has spread in the restive region, residents have been stocking up on food and gasoline in recent days.
The government also plans to split the state into two federal territories consisting of Jammu and Kashmir and the Buddhist region of Ladakh.
While Prime Minister Modi is likely to get public support for the move, it is likely to be subjected to legal challenges.
Several political analysts also expressed fear that it would further alienate a region which has witnessed an armed rebellion by Islamic militants fighting for either independence or its merger with Pakistan.
“What cannot be changed in the enmity that is being created between Hindus and Muslims in the Valley,” said Neelanjan Sircar, an independent analyst in New Delhi. “Is it a situation where the region can only persist under heavy military occupation? Can we really ever envision a time where all troops will be pulled out and everyone will get along peacefully? I don’t see that today.”
The move is likely to increase tensions with Pakistan. Divided between the two countries, Kashmir is claimed by both and has been the trigger of two of their three wars.