Home Minister Amit Shah announced in Parliament on Monday August 5 that the major part of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution had been revoked and Article 35A, relating to Kashmir, scrapped. He also introduced the Reorganisation of Jammu & Kashmir Bill 2019, by which the state of J&K would be bifurcated into two union territories.
The Ladakh region would become a Union Territory (UT) without a legislature while Jammu and Kashmir regions would become another UT, with a legislature. Shah also introduced a Bill in the Rajya Sabha (House of States or the Upper House of Parliament) that would permit persons from economically weaker sections of J&K to get the benefit of reservation in government jobs and in educational institutions. Both bills were passed by the Rajya Sabha at the end of an historic day for the Indian Union.
Shah said Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which pertains to the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, could be and had been revoked through a presidential order. The Ministry of Law and Justice also released details of the recommended amendments in the article. Any amendment to article 370 needs concurrence of the J&K state legislature but, since the state has been under President’s (or direct Central) rule, the amendment was possible by passing it through the national Parliament.
Pakistan considers all of J&K as disputed territory and has launched a low-intensity war against India. Its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is assisting some terrorist outfits in the valley and infiltrating terrorists in the state. The Indian army on August 3 killed five to seven Pakistani Special Services Group (SSG) personnel who wanted to abduct and kill Indian security personnel.
All the mainstream political parties of J&K have criticised the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A. Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party tweeted that the Union government’s unilateral decision was “illegal and unconstitutional”. Omar Abdullah, vice-president of the National Conference and former chief minister, also said New Delhi’s action was “unilateral and shocking” and “betrayal of the trust” of the people of J&K.
Both Mufti and Abdullah and former BJP ally Sajjad Lone were arrested and placed in detention. Curfew was imposed in several districts while Section 144 (not allowing assembly of more than five people) was imposed elsewhere in the Kashmir Valley and internet services were suspended. Educational institutions have been closed and movement of the public has been restricted. Riot control vehicles have been deployed in areas where disturbances was anticipated.
The security forces took full precautions before the government acted to revoke these Articles. Several battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) were deployed in the state, especially in the troubled districts. The National Security Advisor and intelligence agency chiefs visited the state to assess the situation. The head of the external intelligence service R&AW assessed the assistance Pakistan could have provided to the terrorist outfits and alerted the security personnel.
In the run-up to Monday’s announcement, all tourists and outstation students in the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar were told to go home. For the first time in history, the Amarnath Yatra was suspended, as were the Machail Yatra, Budha Amarnath Yatra and Kousar Nag Yatra, all annual religious pilgrimages of great significance. Besides J&K, the central government has also issued a high alert in some states like Uttar Pradesh where communal riots were possible.
Pakistan strongly condemned India’s decision and claimed it was illegal and threatened to take all “possible actions” to counter it. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi criticised the decision saying, “India is playing a dangerous game” which would have serious repercussions on “regional peace and stability”.
Pakistan, which was emboldened by the offer of mediation by US President Donald Trump will take the issue of revocation of Articles 370 and 35A to various international forums like the United Nations. Qureshi said Pakistan will raise the issue in OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation). China, which has also occupied some portion of Kashmir and considers India as its potential adversary, will certainly instigate and promise help to Pakistan. Not only this, President Donald Trump wants to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan because of domestic compulsions. The US representative is negotiating with the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan, which has sway over the Taliban, is assisting them, hence Trump wants to help Pakistan.
Internally, the separatists as well as collaborators of ISI would like to disturb peace and tranquility in the valley. The leaders of mainstream political parties of the valley will also oppose revocation of these articles. However, security forces are competent to deal with the situation and there will be no major untoward incident in the near future. The prime minister or home minister should hoist the national flag at Srinagar on August 15 to enthuse the nationalist forces.
The central and state governments should take long-term steps to integrate the population of J&K with India. Firstly, the Sufi culture should be reinstated and imams of mosques who preach extremism must be imprisoned. More employment should be generated through enhancing tourism, putting more industries and making agriculture and horticulture more profitable.