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Politics

India to strip Kashmir of autonomy as unrest deepens

Move follows heavy troop buildup and house arrest of local politicians

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard in Jammu, India on Aug. 5. An indefinite security lockdown was in place in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir on Monday.   © AP

NEW DELHI -- The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Monday that it has decided to scrap the special autonomous status given to the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir in a major development that is already having repercussions.

Provisions of Article 370 under the country's constitution -- which grants autonomy and permits only residents of the region to buy property and secure local jobs -- are being revoked through a presidential order.

"There should not be a second's delay even in scrapping Article 370," Modi's aide and Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament amid protests by opposition parties including Indian National Congress, which called the move the "murder of the Constitution."

Shah also proposed reorganization of the disputed territory under Indian control, with a plan to bifurcate it into two centrally governed regions.

The move follows days of uncertainty over Muslim-majority Kashmir, where several thousand additional Indian troops were deployed. Top local politicians were placed under house arrest, and tourists and pilgrims were asked to leave the region.

Broadband internet services have been suspended and parts of the region are under curfew.

After the decision, Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of the region who is currently under house arrest, tweeted: "Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy. Decision of [regional] leadership to reject 2-nation theory in 1947 [when the British rule ended resulting in creation of India and Pakistan] & align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of [the government] to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in [the region]."

Kashmir was an independent princely state when the British withdrew from India in August 1947, and it acceded to Hindu-majority India a few months later, seeking special status and rights, which were incorporated as Article 370, a "temporary" provision in the Indian Constitution. The provision meant that local residents had a separate set of laws, which covered, for example, who was a permanent resident and who could own property in the region, which meant that citizens from other parts of the country could not buy land there.

Modi's BJP, which returned to power in May this year for another five-year term, had promised in its election manifesto that it would work to repeal Article 370, which it said got "in the way of development" of Kashmir.

"Seventy years has been a long time for a temporary Article" to remain, government sources said, adding that the reason it is being reviewed now is that the provision has had a "negative impact" on the development of the region because it discouraged the flow of investment and added to separatist sentiment, among other things. 

"About 10% of central government grants [went to the region], which has only 1% of the population of [a country of 1.3 billion], and we haven't seen commensurate development there," the sources said, adding that in the last 15 years the government has spent $40 billion in the region but the quality of governance and state of administration there led to misuse of these resources.

Kashmiris have suffered for decades amid a Pakistan-backed insurgency, which has claimed over 40,000 lives since the 1990s. The latest Indian move is likely to escalate tensions with Pakistan over the issue.

"Pakistan condemns & rejects announcements made today by Indian Government. ... We intend to firmly highlight our stance in our meetings with the U.S. delegation visiting Pakistan and with the International Community at large," Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted, reaffirming Islamabad's political, diplomatic and moral support for the people of the Indian-governed region.

"As the party to this international dispute, Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps," the Pakistani government said in a separate statement.

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