A security personnel stands guard at a roadblock during a curfew in Srinagar on August 6, 2019. India's home affairs minister on August 6 hailed "historic" legislation to bring Kashmir under its direct control. Image Credit: AFP

Indian lawmakers voted to strip Kashmir of its special status

Indian lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that strips the statehood from the Indian-administered portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP-led government submitted the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill for a vote by the lower house of Parliament a day after the surprise measure was introduced alongside a presidential order. That order dissolved a constitutional provision, known as Article 370, which gave Kashmiris exclusive hereditary rights and a separate constitution.

"After five years, seeing development in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) under the leadership of PM Modi, people of the valley will understand drawbacks of Article 370," Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said just before the bill was passed.

No communication

How the 7 million people in the Kashmir Valley were reacting was unclear, because the Indian government shut off most communication with it, including internet, cellphone and landline networks. Thousands of troops were deployed to the restive region amid fears that the government's steps could spark unrest.

Tensions also have soared along the Line of Control, the volatile, highly militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh said Srinagar was "totally peaceful," the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to show restraint, said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

What did the government do?

Clause 3 of Article 370 of India's Constitution states that the president can make changes to the article or abrogate it only with the consent of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, which dissolved itself in 1957 after it drafted the state's own constitution, says Aman Hingorani, a lawyer and expert on Kashmir constitutionalism.

The BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a presidential order replacing the words "Constituent Assembly" with "Legislative Assembly". However, for the past year Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled by a governor appointed by New Delhi after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party pulled out of an alliance with a local Kashmiri party and dissolved the Legislative Assembly in June 2018.

Since there is no state government, or state legislative assembly, the central government and Parliament have taken power to remove the article. Following the release of the presidential order, Parliament introduced a resolution recommending that the president abrogate Article 370.

Then, home minister Amit Shah proposed a Reorganization Bill that would break up the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the union territories of Ladakh (without a legislature) and Jammu and Kashmir (with a legislature).

Is this legal?

Given the absence of the Constituent Assembly, the presidential order cannot change the wording of the article or abrogate it, some experts say.

"There is no Constituent Assembly. That clearly means that it cannot be revoked because the only body which could have recommended it has ceased to exist. Even if you change the meaning and say it is tantamount to the Legislative Assembly of the state, even then the state assembly does not exist," political analyst Yogendra Yadav said.

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A challenge could be brought to the Supreme Court, which would likely reject the presidential order, experts say.

"The process by which New Delhi has scrapped the preferential status accorded to (Jammu and Kashmir) by the constitution and split J&K into two union territories is constitutionally vulnerable," Hingorani said.

What happens next?

The revocation of Article 370 means that Jammu and Kashmir will be largely run by the central government. Territorial autonomy has largely vanished.

With the proposed bill passed by Parliament late Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir will become a union territory and the third part of the state - the region of Ladakh - will become a second union territory.

Jammu and Kashmir will no longer fly its own flag. The Indian national flag will take its place.

With Article 370 revoked, Article 35A, which prohibited outsiders from buying property in the state, has dissolved. Now, Indians from the rest of the country can purchase property and apply for government jobs. Some fear this may lead to a demographic and cultural change in the Muslim-majority region.

Passage of Jammu & Kashmir bill a momentous occasion: Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday hailed the passage of bills on Jammu and Kashmir in Parliament as a "momentous occasion" in parliamentary democracy and said a new dawn awaits the state, which is now free from the "shackles" of vested interest groups.

"Together we are, together we shall rise and together we will fulfil the dreams of 130 crore Indians. A momentous occasion in our Parliamentary democracy, where landmark bills pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir have been passed with overwhelming support!" he said in a series of tweets soon after the Lok Sabha passed the bills.

Parliament has given its nod to abolish the special status granted to the state under Article 370 and also to bifurcate it into two union territories.

"For years, vested interest groups who believed in emotional blackmail, never cared for people's empowerment. J&K is now free from their shackles. A new dawn, better tomorrow awaits!" the prime minister said.

"Saluting sisters and brothers of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh for their courage and resilience," he said, adding that the bills will ensure integration and empowerment of these regions.

These steps will bring the youth into the mainstream and give them innumerable opportunities to showcase their skills and talents, he said, adding that local infrastructure will significantly improve.

Hindered development

The Indian government has said Kashmir's special status hindered its development because it barred people from outside the state from buying property, investing and settling there.

"We will make Jammu and Kashmir into one of our most developed states," Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament to loud cheers from supporters.

Armed police on Tuesday patrolled every few hundred metres in Srinagar, where a ban on public gatherings of more than four people stayed in force. Educational institutions and most shops in residential neighbourhoods were shut.

Litigation against the move

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, challenging the process of making Article 370 redundant in its application to the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state.

The PIL, filed by advocate M.L. Sharma, contends that the gazette notification regarding Article 370 and Article 35A was against the basic spirit of the Constitution and that the government acted in an arbitrary and unconstitutional manner.

The petition claims that the President's order is unconstitutional and the Indian government must take the parliamentary route. Sharma is likely to mention his petition on Wednesday in the top court for urgent hearing.

China, Pakistan slam India's move to change Kashmir's special status

Indian government's plan to change the status of Kashmir ran into fierce opposition from China and Pakistan on Tuesday. China said it opposed India's decision to revoke Kashmir's special status and that New Delhi needed to be cautious on border issues.

"India's action is unacceptable and would not have any legal effect," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement, drawing an immediate rebuke from Delhi that Kashmir was an internal affair.

The Himalayan region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west, and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

China urged India to strictly abide by the agreements reached by both countries in order to avoid any actions that would further complicate boundary issues, Hua said. India and China have a longstanding dispute over the border including in Ladakh, the high altitude area.

India warns China that Kashmir is 'internal matter'

India on Tuesday warned China that the government's contentious move to strip Kashmir of its autonomy and split the region into two parts was an "internal matter" after Beijing slammed the "unilateral" decision.

The Indian government said Ladakh's new designation as a "union territory" was "an internal matter concerning the territory of India".

"India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.

He added that both sides had committed to maintaining "peace and tranquility in the border areas".

The disputed borders between India and China have been the subject of fruitless talks since 1962, when the two nations fought a brief but brutal war over the region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said late Tuesday his government had fulfilled a longstanding demand of the people of Ladakh to be declared a territory of India's union. "Special congratulations to the people of Ladakh!," Modi tweeted.

"This decision will give impetus to the overall prosperity of the region and ensure better developmental facilities."

Pakistan army will go to 'any extent' against India's Kashmir move, minister says

Pakistan's foreign minister wrote to the United Nations, while its army pledged to go to "any extent" against India's move to revoke the autonomous status of Kashmir, that's claimed in full by the two South Asian nations.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote a letter to the secretary general of the United Nations informing him about the "critical situation" in Kashmir, according to a tweet by Pakistan government on Tuesday. Pakistan's army in a separate tweet said it "stands by the Kashmiris in their struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations."

India has accused Pakistan of using militant groups including Jamaat-ud-Dawa led by Hafiz Saeed, the suspected planner of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, of waging a proxy war in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charges.

The army supports the government's rejection of the Indian move and it won't recognize the "sham" Indian efforts to revoke the autonomous status of the state, spokesman General Asif Ghafoor said in a Twitter message after a meeting of top army commanders.

While Qureshi is leading a Pakistani delegation to attend a meeting of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, in Jeddah to discuss the Indian move in Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to top leaders of Turkey and Malaysia a day earlier telling them that New Delhi's move would "undermine" relations between the two countries.

Ladakh rejoices over Union Territory status

"This is the best gift given by the Central government to the people of Ladakh, who always had to take the burden of Kashmir's hegemony," said Member of Parliament from Ladakh Jamyang Tsering Namgyal amid a huge applause in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

Celebrations and congratulatory messages started in Ladakh on Monday right after Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared the removal of Article 370 and announced the region was being reclassified as a Union Territory (UT). The jubilation continued on Tuesday.

In 2018, former BJP MP from Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang had resigned from the Lok Sabha on the grounds that the UT status was the demand of the people and the party was not able to meet it. The issue created an uproar in the region, with people vowing to teach the BJP a lesson in 2019. However, it was only after the local and national BJP leadership intervened that the BJP candidate Jamyang Tsering Namgyal won the 2019 polls by a huge margin.

Apart from the UT status, the Ladakhis were also overjoyed by revoking of Article 370, which was considered discriminatory by the residents of Jammu and Ladakh. MP Namgyal said Ladakh wanted separation from Kashmir for more than 30 years due to the discrimination the locals faced.

In February, Ladakh was granted divisional status with a separate divisional commissioner, Inspector General of Police and division-level offices. However, Ladakhis had intensified the agitation and started demonstrations, demanding the UT status.