Article 370: India strips disputed Kashmir of special status

India’s government has revoked part of the constitution that gives Indian-administered Kashmir special status, in an unprecedented move likely to spark unrest.

Article 370 is sensitive because it is what guarantees significant autonomy for the Muslim-majority state.

There has been a long-running insurgency on the Indian side.

Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir since 1947.

Pakistan has condemned India’s decision to revoke the special status of its part of Kashmir as illegal, saying it would “exercise all possible options” to counter it.

“India is playing a dangerous game which will have serious consequences for regional peace and stability,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Why are there tensions over Kashmir?

During the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, some expected Jammu and Kashmir, like other Muslim-majority regions, to go to Pakistan.

But the ruler of the princely state, who had initially wanted Jammu and Kashmir to become independent, joined India in return for help against an invasion of tribesmen from Pakistan.

War broke out between India and Pakistan, and Kashmir effectively became partitioned.

The region, which remains one of the most militarised zones in the world, has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for more than six decades.

What is Article 370?

In 1949, a special provision was added to India’s constitution providing autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir.

Article 370 allows the state to have its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications.

Another provision later added under Article 370 – 35A – provides special privileges to permanent residents, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property in the state.

It is seen as protecting the state’s distinct demographic character as the only Muslim-majority state in India.

So why is India’s move controversial?

The move by the Hindu nationalist BJP government prompted outrage in parliament, and some legal experts have called it an attack on the constitution.

Critics fear the move is designed to change the demographic makeup of India-administered Kashmir – by giving people from the rest of the country to right to acquire property and settle there permanently.

The state’s former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, told the BBC she felt there was a “sinister design” to the decision.

“They just want to occupy our land and want to make this Muslim-majority state like any other state and reduce us to a minority and disempower us totally.”

She added Article 370 was not given to the people of the state as a “gift”, but “a matter of constitutional guarantees given by the very same Indian parliament to the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Why is the government doing this?

The ruling BJP made revoking Article 370 part of the party’s 2019 election manifesto – and it won a landslide victory earlier this year.

It has argued that Article 370 has prevented the region’s development and its integration with India.

BJP politician and former finance minister Arun Jaitley wrote on Twitter that Monday’s move would lead to “more jobs and more revenue” for people in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Separate status led to separatism… a historical wrong has been undone today,” he said.

How did the government make the change?

India’s government announced a presidential order revoking all of Article 370 apart from one clause which says that the state is an integral part of India. It also proposed to divide the state into two regions.

The order was met by massive protests from the opposition – but has now been signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind.

Changing Article 370 also requires the assent of the state government, but Jammu and Kashmir has been under the rule of a governor since June 2018 when the BJP pulled out of a state government coalition with the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

This effectively means the state has been ruled directly by Delhi through a governor, who has agreed to the bills.

An irrevocable change

Analysis by Geeta Pandey, BBC News, Delhi

The unprecedented security blanket that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was put under in the last few days indicated that something huge was under way.

Most of the speculation was that Article 35A, which gives some special privileges to the people of the state, would be revoked.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP government stunned everyone by revoking almost all of Article 370, which has been the basis of Kashmir’s complex relationship with India for seven decades.

For many Kashmiris, it was the main justification for being a part of India. By revoking Article 370, the BJP has irrevocably changed India’s relationship with Kashmir.

The BJP has long opposed Article 370, and after winning a massive mandate in the April-May general elections, it has lost no time in acting on its pledge.

But the decision is definitely not going to go down well with the people of Kashmir.

What has been happening in Kashmir?

Indian-administered Kashmir, home to about 12 million people, is in a state of lockdown.

Curfew-like conditions have been imposed, and orders preventing the assembly of more than four people have been introduced.

Tens of thousands of Indian troops were deployed to the region ahead of Monday’s announcement and tourists were told to leave under warnings of a terror threat.

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The restriction of mobile networks and the internet have added to the sense of crisis and largely cut the region off from the rest of India.

In the hours before Monday’s announcement, two of the state’s former chief ministers – Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – were placed under house arrest.

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BBC News – World

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