The constitutional changes approved by the Indian parliament on August 5 revoking autonomy and separate citizenship law for Indian-administered Kashmir are set to become operational on October 31.
The Muslim-majority region will be broken up into two federal territories (Union territories) on Thursday, as part of a sweeping move to tighten its grip over the restive region that is at the heart of more than 70 years of hostility with Pakistan.
The two regions will be administered by two lieutenant governors Girish Chandra Murmu and Radha Krishna Mathur respectively. They will report to the Indian home secretary based in New Delhi.
The union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will have two divisions; Kashmir Valley and Jammu, an area of over 42,000 square kilometres (16,216 square miles) with a population of 12.26 million, which comprises 8.44 million (68.8 percent) Muslims.
The vast territory of Ladakh, also known as the cold desert, spread over 59,000sq km (22,780sq miles) and comprising two districts of Kargil and Leh, houses a tiny population of 274,289. Out of this, Muslims make up 127,296 (46.4 percent) and Buddhists 108,761 (39.65 percent).
Since the Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370 on August 5, the region remains under lockdown and thousands have been detained, with near-total communications blackout. Many of those detained have now been released.
New Union Territories
The new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will have its own elected assembly with a five-year term, but most powers will be retained by New Delhi. The region no longer will have its own constitution or flag.
Ladakh, a wind-swept high-altitude desert region that borders China, will be under the federal government’s direct administration with its own lieutenant governor.
Culturally, religiously and ethnically different from the Kashmir Valley, many Ladakhis have long wanted their land to be recognised as a separate union territory.
Ladakh’s two districts – including Kargil, where India and Pakistan fought a short war in 1999 – were already run by “hill councils”, giving them more autonomy than other parts of Jammu and Kashmir state.
Post-separation, Jammu and Kashmir will have five representatives in India‘s lower house, while Ladakh will send one representative to the parliament in New Delhi.
What does it mean?
On the ground, the reorganisation will significantly dilute the ability of Jammu and Kashmir representatives to govern their own affairs by making 106 federal laws applicable to the region, including the Indian Penal Code.
The Jammu and Kashmir assembly will not be able to make laws on policing and public order, effectively ceding control of the entire security apparatus to New Delhi.
More than 150 laws made by the state government will also be repealed, and amendments made in seven other laws. Among those will be provisions that will lift prohibitions on leasing land to persons who are not permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier, India’s federal government-controlled foreign affairs, defence, finance and communications – but left other governance matters to provincial representatives.
Advocate Muhammad Ishaq Qadri, a former public prosecutor in Kashmir, told Anadolu Agency that people in Jammu and Kashmir under local education law were enjoying free education from primary to university. The law ceases to exist now.
The separate citizenship law under Article 35 (A) of the Indian constitution stands null and void. Any Indian citizen from any part of the country can now buy property in Jammu and Kashmir, take a state government job and enjoy scholarships and other government benefits. Children of a woman marrying outside Jammu and Kashmir will not lose property rights.
The region’s own employment cadre, Kashmir Administrative Service will be now open for Indian citizens to compete. “The new recruitment will be held under laws applicable to centrally administered territories of India. An employee working in Kashmir can be now transferred to any other far off centrally administered region,” former Advocate General Jahangir Iqbal said.
There has been apprehension, particularly in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley that the scrapping of Article 370 will lead to an influx of outsiders buying land and settling there.
The new arrangement comes as a boost for security forces, who for setting their base and camps had to go through a maze of legal wrangles to acquire land. “Any central agency [including security forces] can come and apply to get land,” he said.
There is no clarity as yet, about the official language of the region. Under the now-scrapped Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, Urdu was the official language of the region. But the Indian Constitution recognizes Hindi as the official language.
Why is it important?
The Kashmir valley is one of the world’s most militarised regions, where rebels have waged a decades-long war against Indian rule. Tens of thousands of people have been killed as India deployed more than half a million troops to quell the rebellion.
It has long been one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoint. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in full but rule in part, and have fought two of their three wars over the region.
In February, the rivals nearly went to war again, after a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir killed 40 paramilitary troopers.
India sent warplanes into Pakistan, which then mounted a counterattack, and an Indian pilot was shot down and captured in the ensuing skirmish.
China and India also contest an ill-defined border in the Ladakh region, where troops from both sides have occasionally confronted each other.
In 1962, India lost a short but bloody war with China, fought in Ladakh and eastern Arunachal Pradesh state. Arunachal Pradesh remains in India’s control, while China administers a large area adjacent to Ladakh called Aksai Chin.
Prime Minister Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had long wanted to do away with the special provisions that had given Kashmir its own constitution, a flag and the right to frame its own laws.
The provisions were granted to the state via the Indian Constitution’s Article 370, after Jammu and Kashmir’s Hindu king agreed to accede to India in 1947.