NEW DELHI: India on Monday revoked the special status of Kashmir in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country, the most far-reaching political move on the troubled Himalayan territory in nearly seven decades.
Interior Minister Amit Shah told parliament the federal government would scrap Article 370, a constitutional provision that grants a measure of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir including the right to make its own laws.
“The entire constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said to loud protests from opposition lawmakers who were against the repeal.
The government also lifted a ban on property purchases by people from outside Jammu and Kashmir, opening the way for Indians to invest and settle there like any other part of India, a measure likely to provoke a backlash in the territory.
Tens of thousands of people have died in an armed revolt that erupted against Indian rule in 1989, with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops deployed to quell it.
The move is likely to increase tensions with Pakistan, which has claims to Kashmir and demands that India give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination.
The divided Himalayan region is claimed by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan and the nuclear-armed neighbours have gone to war twice over the territory since independence in 1947.
“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” said Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
“It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent,” she added.
The constitutional provisions revoked on Monday were introduced decades ago and included reserved government jobs and college placements for residents, in an effort to keep the state from being overrun by people from the rest of India.
The scrapping of special status for Kashmir is likely to trigger a slew of political and legal battles, said Happymon Jacob, a professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Politically, it’s advantage BJP,” Jacob said, referring to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has long advocated ending Kashmir’s special status.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his associates had pushed for radical political changes in Jammu and Kashmir even before he won a re-election in May, arguing the old laws had hindered its integration with the rest of India.
Ram Madhav, general secretary of the ruling BJP, referred to the government’s actions as a “glorious day” and celebrations were planned across the country.
The government also said it would split the state into two federal territories - Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh - Shah said, adding that the decision reflected the prevailing internal security situation.
India’s federal government announced the changes hours after a security crackdown began in Kashmir.
Telephone and internet services remained suspended and movement of public in the main Sringar city has been restricted since midnight. Some regional leaders were put under house arrest around midnight.
In Pakistani-controlled areas of the region, there was anger at India, but also at Islamabad for not preventing the move.
“We reject and condemn this decision. Kashmiris will never accept it,” said Iqbal Awan, a 51-year-old migrant from Indian Kashmir, as he prepared to join a protest in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
Tension had risen in Kashmir since Friday, when Indian officials issued an alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups. Pakistan has rejected those assertions, but thousands of alarmed Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers streamed out of the region over the weekend. — Reuters