Article 370: India Supreme Court upholds repeal of Kashmir’s special status

Indian paramilitary personnel patrol along a road in Srinagar on December 11, 2023, ahead of Supreme Court's verdict on Article 370.
Image caption,Indian paramilitary personnel patrol a road in Srinagar ahead of Supreme Court’s verdict

By Meryl Sebastian in Kochi and Sharanya Hrishikesh in Delhi

BBC News

India’s top court has upheld the stripping of special status from the former state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2019┬árevoked┬áthe Indian constitution’s Article 370, which had given the region significant autonomy.

The state of more than 12 million people was also split into two federally administered territories.

The court added that the government should hold elections in the region by September 2024.

The five-judge bench also ordered that the region should be restored as a state “at the earliest.”

“The state of Jammu and Kashmir does not have internal sovereignty different from other states,” Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said while reading out the judgement.

In his concurring judgement, Justice SK Kaul recommended that an “impartial truth and reconciliation commission” be set up in Kashmir to investigate human rights violations by both “state and non-state actors” over the past few decades.

The revocation was one of Mr Modi’s poll promises in 2019 and the court’s decision comes months before he seeks a third term. Local politicians in the region have expressed disappointment over the order.

An art school teacher carries a painting depicting the Supreme Court's verdict on Article 370, in Mumbai on December 11, 2023.
Image caption,A teacher in Mumbai carries a painting depicting the Supreme Court’s verdict on Kashmir

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he was “disappointed but not disheartened”.

The scenic Jammu and Kashmir region was once a princely state which joined India in 1947 soon after the sub-continent was divided up at the end of British rule.

Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have since fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir. Each has come to control different parts of the territory with a ceasefire line agreed.

Security has been tightened in Kashmir since Monday morning.

“We are duty-bound to ensure that peace prevails in the [Kashmir] valley under all circumstances,” VK Birdi, the inspector general of Kashmir zone, told PTI news agency.

Security was also beefed up and the region witnessed a communication blackout when the revocation happened.

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government revoked nearly all of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special privileges to the people of Jammu and Kashmir state.

- Kashmiri Shiite Muslims shout anti-Indian slogans during a demonstration against attempts by the NGO 'We the Citizens' and individual citizens to revoke article 35A and 370, in Srinagar on August 24, 2018
Image caption,A 2018 protest by Kashmiris against the planned revocation of Article 370

The assembly, overseeing the state’s budget, spending, employment, education, and economic activity, was dissolved. A lieutenant governor was appointed to govern the region until local elections were conducted. Several activists and senior opposition leaders in the region were detained.

Article 370 allowed the state its own constitution, a separate flag and freedom to make laws. Foreign affairs, defence and communications remained the preserve of the federal government.

As a result, Jammu and Kashmir could make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. It could also bar Indians from outside the state from purchasing property or settling there.

The constitutional provision had underpinned India’s often fraught relationship with Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region to join India at partition.

Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had long opposed Article 370 and revoking it was in the party’s 2019 election manifesto.

They argued it needed to be scrapped to integrate Kashmir and put it on the same footing as the rest of India. After returning to power with a massive mandate in the April-May general elections in 2019, the government lost no time in acting on its pledge.

Critics say the BJP ultimately wants to change the demographic character of the Muslim-majority region by allowing non-Kashmiris to buy land there.

In August this year, the constitution bench of the Supreme Court began hearing nearly 23 petitions challenging the government’s decision.

Image caption,The government frequently imposes communication restrictions in the region for security reasons

The petitioners had stressed the unique nature of Kashmir’s relationship with India, and said Article 370 “acted as a bridge” between the constitutions of India and Jammu and Kashmir.

The state comprised the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the high altitude Buddhist enclave of Ladakh.

The petitioners argued that the state’s reorganisation into Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as federally administered territories violated India’s constitution, which requires the state legislative assembly’s approval to reduce a state to a union territory.

The petitioners said that the abrogation of Article 370 also took away the region’s internal sovereignty without considering the will of its people. But the government had claimed this sovereignty was surrendered to India in 1947.

Many of the restrictions imposed after the scrapping of the special status have been eased and the picturesque Kashmir valley attracted more than 16 million tourists in 2022. The government has said it is ready to hold state elections and restore statehood.

However, the government frequently imposes communication restrictions in the region for security reasons, criticised by rights groups as measures to suppress dissent.

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