Article 370 of India’s constitution has been a bone of contention in the country’s politics for years.
In place since 1949, it gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir – which encompasses the section of the disputed Kashmir region controlled by India – including the power to have its own constitution, flag and autonomy over all matters, save for certain policy areas such as a foreign affairs and defense.
Revoking it was one of the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of recent national elections.
On Monday, the government made good on its pledge and announced it had scrapped Article 370, prompting criticism from Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir and described the move as illegal.
What happens now?
Under normal circumstances, in order to make a constitutional change like this, the state’s local legislature would need to be consulted. But Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t have one at the moment.
Last June, the BJP pulled out of a coalition government with the Jammu & Kashmir’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the state was put under the rule of the governor – the constitutional representative of India’s president – which in effect handed rule directly to the government in New Delhi.
That’s allowed New Delhi to move ahead with the scrapping of Article 370 without the backing of local politicians in Indian-controlled Kashmir, according to Happymon Jacob, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who has written extensively on India and Pakistan.
“These decisions require constitutional amendments, which cannot be done with a presidential order, which is what they have done, but it has a weak legal foundation. It will be challenged in court but I don’t think the BJP is worried about this. They will fight it out, it will go on for a long time, and in the mean time they will come [with] radical changes in the state,” Jacob told CNN.
“At the moment, there is no legal opposition. There is only the governor who can oppose it, but he is Home Ministry-appointed.”
What else is Modi’s government doing?
In addition to revoking Article 370, the government also introduced a bill to change Jammu and Kashmir’s administrative status from a state to a union territory. In the Indian system, state governments retain significant authority over local matters. But New Delhi has more of a say in the affairs of a union territory.
The bill passed India’s upper house of parliament later Monday and will be put to the lower house soon.
“We don’t have any examples where a state has been downgraded to a union territory. The fact that you have changed the politics in Jammu and Kashmir so radically and fundamentally is surprising,” Jacob said.
“They have gone about doing that because once a state becomes centrally-administered, you don’t have to go through the state assembly for any decision-making power.”
Under the plans, the remote mountainous region of Ladakh, currently part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, will be separated and turned into a standalone union territory.