A Bill to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir and increase federal control over the region has been passed by India's Parliament, but residents were likely to have been unaware of the fast-paced developments due to a complete communication blackout.
The Lower House of Parliament yesterday passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, which bifurcates the state of Jammu and Kashmir into a Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature and a Union Territory of Ladakh without a legislature.
The Bill was passed by the Upper House on Monday and will now go to the President for assent.
A Union Territory is a type of administrative division in India in which the federal government has a greater say on certain administrative matters, unlike a state that has full autonomy.
All the changes were made while a communication blackout was in effect in the region, with cable television, Internet and phone services suspended as the Narendra Modi government sought to prevent unrest being sparked by the decisions.
The move has elicited mixed reactions. While it has been celebrated in some quarters, a clutch of opposition parties continued to criticise the government for removing Kashmir's special status and rushing through the the changes amid great secrecy. "National integration isn't furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land. This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security," tweeted former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Kashmir party National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah told NDTV: "It's like your body is being carved… will they divide our hearts too?"
The move also attracted criticism from neighbouring Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday that his country will impose further diplomatic and political pressure on India over the move. Kashmir has a troubled history and is at the heart of the conflict between India and Pakistan, which have gone to war thrice over the territory.
"We will fight it at every forum. We're thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice)... to the United Nations Security Council," Mr Khan said in an address to Pakistan's Parliament.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said the military would "go to any extent" to support people in the region. "Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end," he said after meeting with top commanders in Rawalpindi.
The Hindu, an English language newspaper in India, warned of the move impacting the entire country.
"This move will strain India's social fabric, not only in its impact on Jammu and Kashmir, but also in the portents it holds for federalism, parliamentary democracy and diversity. The BJP-led government has undermined parliamentary authority in multiple ways since 2014, but the passing of legislation as far-reaching as dismembering a state without prior consultations has set a new low," it said in an editorial.
The Indian Express, another English language daily, also warned of the tough journey ahead. "Now that the die has been cast, how the government proposes to carry this forward from here, how it will deal with the legal and political fallout and the reactions in the Valley, will decide many things for India," the newspaper said in an editorial.
India faced diplomatic fallout over the changes from China too, which took exception to the changes on Ladakh. The countries have differences along several sections of the Line of Actual Control, a demarcation line which stretches from eastern Ladakh to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.
"The recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China's territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in a statement yesterday.
India immediately reacted, saying the formation of Ladakh "is an internal matter concerning the territory of India". External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said: "India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise."