NEW DELHI -- India has scrapped the special status given to strife-torn Kashmir -- its only Muslim-majority region, which remains a core problem in its troubled relationship with neighboring Pakistan -- in a landmark move to fully integrate the state with the rest of the nation.
The picturesque northern Himalayan region is in a state of lockdown as mobile, landline and broadband services remain suspended and a curfew imposed in some parts. This could be an attempt to prevent any backlash in the region following Monday's repeal of a constitutional provision known as Article 370, which gave Kashmir the power to make its own laws.
What is the Kashmir dispute?
The British left the Indian subcontinent in August 1947, resulting in the creation of two countries based on religious lines: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. At the time, there were over 560 princely states in the region, including Kashmir, which each had the option to be placed in either of the countries.
Muslim-dominated Kashmir had a Hindu ruler, Hari Singh, who hoped to keep the state independent. However, Muslim tribal fighters backed by the Pakistani army soon invaded Kashmir, forcing its king to seek protection from India. Kashmir finally acceded to New Delhi in October 1947 and sought special status. This was incorporated as Article 370, a "temporary" provision in the Indian constitution.
Pakistan objected to Kashmir's accession and India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress, now in opposition, referred the dispute to the United Nations in 1948 while Indian and Pakistan forces were engaged in their first war over the region.
The U.N. passed a resolution requesting that Pakistan withdraw its troops from Kashmir, after which India was to remove much of its forces from the region. Once the two sides had withdrawn, a plebiscite was to be held allowing the Kashmiris to determine with which nation they wanted to align. However, the plan failed when Pakistan refused to withdraw its forces, continuing to hold part of Kashmir under its control. The plebiscite did not go ahead. Decades later, a rise in separatist sentiment, encouraged by Pakistan, fueled insurgency in the region.
What does the scrapping of Article 370 mean?
The special status under this article effectively gave the region a kind of autonomy, including framing its own laws (with the exception of those related to defense, foreign affairs and communications), having a separate flag, and not allowing people from other parts of the country to buy property there.
With the scrapping of the article, the central laws and all provisions of the Indian constitution will be applicable in Kashmir, as in other parts of India. Many Kashmiris fear that people from other parts of the country, mainly Hindus, will buy property, move into the region and possibly threaten its Muslim-majority demographics.
What does this move mean for Modi?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has long believed that Article 370 should be repealed and all provisions of the Indian constitution applied in Kashmir.
In the run-up to general elections held in April and May, the party's manifesto clearly mentioned that this provision should go. Accordingly, the Modi government, which won another five-year term in the elections with an even stronger mandate, has now acted on its poll promise.
The move is expected to add to Modi's popularity and result in political gains for him. The BJP "will beat Rajiv Gandhi's record" in terms of parliamentary seats if the nationwide elections were to take place now, Yashwant Sinha, a former party leader and Modi critic, told local news channel NDTV.
Few opposition parties -- with the exception of some, such as Congress, the All India Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party -- have so far objected to the move amid rising nationalist sentiment in the country -- all of which is good news for Modi.
How has the international community reacted?
Pakistan has condemned India's move, calling the Indian part of Kashmir "an internationally recognized disputed territory" and vowing to exercise all possible options to counter what it calls an "illegal" step.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement it was "closely following the events in the state of Jammu and Kashmir" and noted that the Indian government had described its actions "strictly an internal matter." "We call on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control," the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, its spokesperson Morgan Ortagus added.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also issued a statement. "The [Indian] government has a responsibility to ensure security in Kashmir, but that means respecting the human rights of everyone, including protesters," said Meenakshi Ganguly, its South Asia director.
What are the geopolitical implications?
India and Pakistan have fought three major wars, including two over Kashmir which remains the core flash point in their bilateral ties.
However, analysts say the latest Indian move on Kashmir is unlikely to trigger a war. "Pakistan is in a very bad economic position. They can't go for [another] war with India. But there can be serious border skirmishes. You can't rule that out," said A.K. Dhar, a New Delhi-based defense analyst who is a Kashmiri Hindu.