New Delhi revokes special constitutional status for India's Kashmir, in move Pakistan calls illegal
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India's government said Monday it was revoking the special constitutional status of disputed Kashmir, hours after imposing a major security clampdown on the troubled Himalayan territory.
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 state, 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.
“It’s hard to underscore exactly how extraordinary this announcement is,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent Mandakini Gahlot, describing the government’s decision as “explosive”.
“Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state in the country”, Gahlot said. “The removal of this article gives the government the room to entirely change the demographics of the state.”
Tens of thousands of people have died in Kashmir in an armed revolt that erupted against Indian rule in 1989, with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops deployed to quell it.
Monday’s 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.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the decision to revoke Kashmir's special status violated a UN resolution on the disputed territory, adding that his government would step up diplomatic efforts to prevent it from coming into effect.
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.
India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 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 will also split the state into two federal territories, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, Shah told parliament on Monday, adding that the decision reflected the prevailing internal security situation.
The announcement came just hours after a security crackdown began in Kashmir, where thousands of extra troops were deployed overnight.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)