NEW DELHI — India’s Parliament has approved the Hindu nationalist-led government’s decision to revoke the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state, thrusting the Himalayan region wracked by insurgency into long-term uncertainty.
Ignoring opposition by Kashmiri leaders, it also approved a bill to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood, separating it into two federal territories.
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What did the government do?
On Monday, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a presidential order to remove the special status of Jammu Kashmir. In lieu of a state legislature, for the past year Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled by a governor appointed by New Delhi so Modi’s government said it could make the decision unilaterally.
Kashmiri leaders quickly labeled it “the darkest day” in India’s democracy. Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the decision in 1947 by the Hindu maharaja ruling what was then a kingdom to join the union of India had backfired.
She said the thousands of troops deployed to Jammu and Kashmir ahead of the action in Parliament on Monday had made “India an occupational force.“
Is this legal?
New Delhi cannot change the wording of the article in the constitution giving Jammu and Kashmir special status or abrogate it without consulting a local political body, 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.
A challenge could be brought to the Supreme Court, which would likely reject the presidential order, experts say.
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What happens next?
The revocation of Article 370, the constitutional provision that gave Jammu and Kashmir its special status, means that it will be largely run by the central government. Jammu and Kashmir will no longer fly its own flag.
With Article 370 revoked, Article 35A, which prohibited outsiders from buying property in the state, has also 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.
How are residents of Kashmir responding?
How Kashmiris will react to these changes will only be known after the Indian government lifts a near-complete communications blackout and security clampdown. Tens of thousands of government forces in riot gear have been patrolling the streets of the main city, Srinagar, to discourage protests. The restrictions are unlikely to be lifted soon as India prepares to celebrate its Independence Day from British colonialists on Aug. 15.
New Delhi would like to prevent an upsurge in violence with international attention on Kashmir after the Modi government’s decision to end the special privileges.
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How does it impact ties with nuclear rival Pakistan?
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over control of Kashmir. Both countries administer parts of the region and claim it in its entirety.
Pakistan reacted swiftly to India’s decision on Kashmir, downgrading diplomatic ties and suspending the countries’ limited trade. It also halted a key train service with India. Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire across their disputed border in Kashmir, a frequent occurrence.
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A cease-fire line divides Kashmir between the two countries. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents who have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Border tensions are expected to worsen in coming weeks and months.
Street protests and stone-pelting of Indian soldiers by Kashmiri residents are common forms of resistance to Indian rule. India says Kashmir is an integral part of the country, a sentiment that has broad support across political lines in India.
Pakistan says it will ask the U.N. to pressure India to reverse its decision to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood. It also said it would continue extending diplomatic, political and moral support for people living in Kashmir and their “right of self-determination.” Pakistan has long called for people in the Indian-controlled part to be allowed to vote on whether they want to sever ties with India.