Amit Shah, India’s interior minister, told Parliament that the government would revoke Article 370, which gives Kashmir the right to make its own laws. The step also nullifies another provision that bars nonresidents from purchasing property in the state.
Shah also announced that the state would be reorganized administratively, a move that would effectively limit the powers of a state government. This was being done “keeping in view the prevailing internal security situation fueled by cross-border terrorism,” Shah said.
Article 370 had been considered a cornerstone of Kashmir’s inclusion in India, instituted after the 1947 partition that separated India and Pakistan following the end of British colonial rule.
Today, Indian-controlled Kashmir is the country’s only majority-Muslim state, where militants for three decades have battled Indian forces, seeking independence or more autonomy. Pakistan disputes India’s control of the territory, and the two countries have previously gone to war over the region.
On Monday, Pakistan condemned India’s decision to revoke Article 370, saying it violated a U.N. resolution.
Calling Kashmir an “internationally recognized disputed territory,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it would continue to support the Kashmiri people’s “right to self-determination.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres on Monday urged both countries to show restraint.
Monday’s move comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hard-line Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, won a big victory in Indian elections in May. The decision and its stealthy implementation are likely to further damage New Delhi’s relationship with its most restive state and ignite unrest there. There are also worries that the move may ratchet up tensions between the majority Hindus and the minority Muslims in the rest of the country.
The “BJP has not only murdered the Constitution but also murdered democracy,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, a leader of the opposition Congress party.
India’s army and air force were put on high alert, and 8,000 troops were airlifted to Kashmir after the announcement, according to media reports.
Life in Kashmir was paralyzed Monday. People were asked to stay indoors, and Kashmiris outside the state struggled to contact family members and other loved ones as communication lines remained down. The Indian government has not said when these measures would be lifted. In another late-night move, authorities arrested two former chief ministers Monday who had warned the government against taking such a step.
Calling the move “unprecedented,” Ankit Panda, a New York-based geopolitical analyst, said it would be difficult to predict what comes next. But “once news gets to the people of Kashmir, who are still under a communications embargo,” he said, “this decision will likely mobilize considerable resistance.”
Indian government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Parliament was in session, said the crackdown was a “precautionary measure” to prevent an outbreak of violence. They also argued that the changes would improve the governance of the state, which they said had fallen behind the rest of the country in development thanks to the resurgent separatist movement.
Political leaders from Kashmir called the move “illegal and unconstitutional.” A former chief minister of the state, Mehbooba Mufti, said it was the “darkest day in Indian democracy” that would make India an “occupational force” in the region. Residents fear the move will also lead to a demographic change in the Muslim-majority area.
Legal experts said the order could be challenged in court.
“It violates the text and spirit of the Constitution,” said Suhrith Parthasarathy, an expert on constitutional law. “Article 370 is the tunnel through which the Indian constitution is carried into the state. To make it inoperable, you have to take the people of the state into confidence. What the present order does is to effectively abrogate Article 370 through executive whim.”
Speculation over the central government’s plans for Kashmir raged for more than a week after local media reported the deployment of 35,000 additional security personnel. Rights groups have often called Kashmir one of the world’s most militarized zones and have said abuses regularly take place there.
Chaos ensued when the government on Friday suddenly curtailed an annual Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir, citing a terrorist threat from Pakistan. All tourists were asked to evacuate the state immediately. Britain and Australia were among the countries to issue an advisory to their citizens against travel to the state. Administrative orders added to the panic of residents. People lined up at gas pumps and grocery stores as uncertainty loomed.
In February, tensions escalated between the two nuclear-armed neighbors after a deadly attack on Indian forces by a local militant from a terrorist group that India accuses Pakistan of supporting. The two countries came to the brink of war and engaged in aerial combat for the first time in decades. The situation eased after an Indian pilot captured by Pakistan was released.
President Trump twice offered recently to mediate on the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. India has rejected the offers, calling it a “bilateral” issue.