India’s Supreme Court has upheld the government’s decision to revoke special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ruling on Monday, the court also ordered the region to hold local elections by September 30 next year. The decision is viewed by critics as another step by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to clamp down on India’s only Muslim-majority region.
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After seven decades or so of significant autonomy for the contested Jammu and Kashmir region under the Indian constitution’s Article 370, granted in 1947 after the first India-Pakistan war over the Himalayan region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the article in 2019.
Since August this year, India’s top court has been hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of that move.
On Monday, a panel of five judges unanimously ruled to uphold Modi’s decision, confirming the claim that the special status for Jammu and Kashmir had been only temporary.
“Article 370 was an interim arrangement due to war conditions in the state,” Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said. “Textual reading also indicates that it is a temporary provision.”
‘A beacon of hope’
The region has been at the heart of more than 75 years of animosity between India and Pakistan since the two countries became independent from British rule in 1947.
Two years later, the Indian constitution’s Article 370 came into effect, becoming the basis for Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to the Indian union. This gave the region autonomy in making its own laws in all matters except finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications.
Modi’s revocation of Article 370 divided the region into two federal territories – Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir – both ruled directly by the central government, without a legislature of their own.
“This is a straightforward pandering to the Hindu-majority electorate in India,” Ajai Shukla, a defence analyst in New Delhi told Al Jazeera after the government’s decision in 2019.
“There is a political polarisation here with the ruling party trying to pander to its Hindu vote bank and to anything it sees as anti-Muslim,” he said. “For the government, it is a step that it had promised and now delivered on.”
Following Monday’s ruling, Modi called it “a beacon of hope, a promise of a brighter future”.
“It is a resounding declaration of hope, progress and unity for our sisters and brothers in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” the Indian premier posted on X.
Today's Supreme Court verdict on the abrogation of Article 370 is historic and constitutionally upholds the decision taken by the Parliament of India on 5th August 2019; it is a resounding declaration of hope, progress and unity for our sisters and brothers in Jammu, Kashmir and…
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 11, 2023
Political parties in Kashmir that opposed the revocation, and were among those that went to court, expressed disappointment.
“Disappointed but not disheartened,” Omar Abdullah, former chief minister and vice president of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference party, posted on X. “The struggle will continue. It took the BJP decades to reach here. We are also prepared for the long haul.”
Mehbooba Mufti, another former chief minister and president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party, echoed those views.
“The people of J&K are not going to lose hope or give up. Our fight for honour and dignity will continue regardless. This isn’t the end of the road for us,” she posted on X.
The Kashmir region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region of Jammu; Pakistan controls a wedge of territory in the west and China holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.