The Indian government yesterday scrapped the special status given to the trouble-torn state of Jammu and Kashmir, which it has struggled to integrate into the country. It also moved ahead with plans to split the state in two, in decisions that are widely expected to trigger a backlash.
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced the changes for Kashmir, which has been on lockdown in anticipation of possible violent protests over the government's gameplan.
Residents of Muslim-majority Kashmir have long opposed the scrapping of provisions of Article 370, which was a condition on which the princely state of Kashmir agreed to join India during the partition of India from Pakistan in 1947. Different states had been allowed to choose which country to join.
"After abrogation of Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir will truly become an integral part of India. Scrapping 370 is the only way forward for Kashmir... it was the root cause of the lack of development in Jammu and Kashmir," said Mr Shah in the Upper House of Parliament.
The scrapping of Article 370 - which allows the state to have its own Constitution and exclusive rights in all matters except foreign affairs, communications and defence - means Kashmir will be subject to the laws governing the rest of India, a key election promise of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The state will also be split into the Union Territory of Ladakh, which will not have a legislature, and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which will. The legislation was passed by the Upper House and will be taken up today in the Lower House of Parliament, where BJP has a majority.
Kashmir has been on the edge since last Friday when the government asked all tourists and Hindu pilgrims, who were taking part in an annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave, to leave the state. An additional 25,000 security personnel were also mobilised.
Early yesterday, several politicians, including former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, were placed under house arrest. Both were later arrested for defying house arrest.
All educational institutes were ordered shut, public meetings and rallies banned and restrictions placed on phones and the Internet.
Kashmiris living outside the state tweeted about how they could no longer connect with family and friends. Reactions ranged from anger and shock to celebration.
"Government of India's unilateral and shocking decisions today are a betrayal of the trust that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947. The decisions will have far-reaching and dangerous consequences," said Mr Abdullah.
BJP leaders called it a historic move, even as Congress party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad called it a "black blot on India's history".
Kashmir is at the heart of a conflict between India and Pakistan, with an armed insurgency raging since 1989. It remains a source of tensions, with India and Pakistan launching tit-for-tat air strikes after a suicide bombing of a bus killed 40 paramiltary personnel belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force in Pulwama district.
Pakistan's Foreign Office criticised the Kashmir developments.
"No unilateral step by the government of India can change this disputed status, as enshrined in the United Nations Security Council resolutions," read the statement. "As the party to this international dispute, Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps."
Analysts said the scrapping of Article 370 and bifurcation would have an impact within Jammu and Kashmir, but the security measures had ensured no blowback.
The government flew an additional 8,000 troops into Kashmir.
"From a purely security perspective, there is no unprecedented danger or unmanageable challenges being created by this," said Professor Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. "Significant measures have been taken."
How special status came about, why it’s gone
Q What is Article 370?
A It is a "temporary" provision in the Indian Constitution introduced in 1949 giving the state of Jammu and Kashmir a certain degree of autonomy by placing limits on the Constitution's applicability in the state.
The Article made it necessary for the federal government to get the state legislature's concurrence for introducing legislation to the state other than that related to foreign affairs, communications and defence.
The Article can be abolished with a presidential order, but the move requires the consent of the state's Constituent Assembly.
Q What is its genesis?
A The Article was central to Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India after its independence in 1947. It formed the basis of the application of Article 1 of the Indian Constitution, which lists the states of India, to Jammu and Kashmir.
While work commenced on setting up a separate charter for the state, its then Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah participated in the Indian Constituent Assembly and negotiated a special status for Jammu and Kashmir, leading to the adoption of Article 370 in October 1949.
Q What has the government done now?
A The government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has revoked the special status for Jammu and Kashmir. It has relied on a presidential order to extend, with immediate effect, the Indian Constitution to the state that is now proposed to be bifurcated into the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This effectively negates Article 370.
As Jammu and Kashmir is currently without a functioning state assembly and placed under the President's rule, the Indian government has equated the consent of the federally appointed governor to that of the state assembly. It has also moved a resolution to scrap Article 370.
Q Why is it such an important goal for the BJP?
A Mr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh that later became the BJP, had strongly opposed the special status granted to the state and pushed for its "integration" with India. He died in detention in Kashmir in 1953 while campaigning for this cause, one the political right has kept alive since.
Abolishing Article 370 responds to this longstanding demand, which also reinforces the BJP's nationalist credo.