NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Monday scrapped Article 370 of the constitution, which gave the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir a special autonomous status under the union.
In an unprecedented move, New Dehli divided the state into two union territories. The majority Buddhist Ladakh will become a union territory and the Hindu and Muslim areas of Jammu and Kashmir will become another union territory with a legislative assembly.
A union territory is an administrative division directly governed by the center and their representatives. The local assembly under such administrative divisions has limited power.
Home Minister Amit Shah informed the Upper House of Parliament about the presidential decree before moving a resolution in Parliament abrogating Article 370.
“The entire constitution will be applicable to the Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said.
He described the decision as “historical,” arguing that the scrapped law was preventing the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian union.
In 1947, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir signed an instrument of accession with India. This was later formalized into the constitution in 1952, bestowing a special status to the state.
Under Article 370, New Delhi needs the approval of the local assembly to pass any bill except on those relating to defense, foreign affairs, finance and communication.
The decree also has the support of Article 35A, which gives residents of Kashmir special rights to live in the state.
The abolition of the article has drawn sharp reactions from the political parties in the valley and outside.
“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti said.
In a series of tweets, she said that the “decision of the Jammu and Kashmir leadership to reject two-nation theory in 1947 and align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of government of India to scrap Article 370 is illegal and unconstitutional, which will make India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir.”
She warned that “it will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent. Indian government’s intentions are clear. They want the territory of the state by terrorizing its people. India has failed Kashmir in keeping its promises.”
Omar Abdullah, leader of the National Conference, said the change is a “total betrayal of the trust that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947.”
He called the decision to scrap the law as New Delhi’s “aggression against the people of the state.”
Opposition Congress Party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad described it as “a murder of democracy and an aggression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Abdullah, Mufti and other political leaders have been under house arrest in Srinagar since Sunday evening.
The state’s communication network has been blocked since yesterday, preventing people from reacting to the political upheaval.
Since Friday, the state has been put on high alert with the government issuing an advisory asking tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave immediately.
In the last week, more than 38,000 additional troops have been sent to the state to deal with potential unrest. The Jammu region of the state has also been put on alert.
“The government has imposed section 144 in Jammu to ban any kind of gathering,” said Amjad Shah, a Jammu-based journalist from Rising Kashmir.
Constitution expert A V Gupta said that “this is a foolish decision by the government of India.”
“Article 370 was the only link between India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. By scrapping it, you are making the state a separate country,” Gupta added.
He told Arab News that “the government’s decision is highly undemocratic and against the spirit of the constitution and democracy.”
“Article 370 has been challenged in the Supreme Court many times and the court rejected any move to scrap it. Now if the matter goes to the court, I suspect the apex court will refer it to the larger constitutional bench,” he added.
Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, editor of the Kashmir Times said: “Constitutional experts believe that the article is the only link between India and Jammu and Kashmir and if you remove it then there remains nothing.
“This is a government which does not believe in constitutional and judicial propriety.”
She told Arab News that “New Delhi took an unprecedented political decision affecting the 7 million people of Jammu and Kashmir by putting the entire state under curfew.
“This might invite violent backlash and unheard of reactions. This might push the valley further into the vortex of deep uncertainty”.
Amnesty International said that New Delhi’s decision “is likely to inflame prevailing tensions, alienate the people in the state and increase the risk of further human rights violations.”