NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: The Union Government on Monday revoked the special status of Kashmir, moving to grasp its region more tightly.
In a far-reaching political move, the government said it would scrap a constitutional provision that allows the state of Jammu and Kashmir to make its own laws.
“The entire constitution will be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir,” Interior Minister Amit Shah told parliament, as opposition lawmakers voiced loud protests against the repeal.
The government also lifted a ban on property purchases by non-residents, opening the way for Indians to invest and settle there, just as they can elsewhere in the country, although the measure is likely to provoke a backlash in the region.
Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir, said it strongly condemned the decision, which is bound to further strain ties between the nuclear-armed rivals.
“As the party to this international dispute, Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
Hours earlier, the government launched a security crackdown in the region, arresting local leaders, suspending telephone and Internet services and restricting public movement in the main city of Srinagar.
Regional leaders have previously said stripping Kashmir’s special status amounts to aggression against its people.
The streets in Srinagar were largely deserted as travel curbs kept people indoors, said a Reuters photographer who found a telephone connection in a restaurant near the city’s airport.
There was heavy deployment of security forces across Srinagar, but no signs of protest.
A top government source in New Delhi told reporters the restrictions were precautionary, adding that life was expected to return to normal fairly soon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had pushed for radical political change in Kashmir even before he won re-election in May, saying its laws hindered integration with the rest of India.
“Politically, it’s advantage BJP,” said Happymon Jacob, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
“The scrapping of Article 370 of the constitution is likely to set off a slew of political, constitutional and legal battles, not to speak of the battles on the streets of Kashmir.”
Introduced decades ago, the constitutional provisions reserved government jobs and college places for Kashmir’s residents, among other limits aiming to keep people from other parts of the country from overrunning the state.
The government has also decided to split the state into two federal territories, one formed by Jammu and Kashmir, and the other consisting of the enclave of Ladakh, citing internal security considerations.
Turning the state into a federal territory allows Delhi to exert greater control.
“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” said one of the leaders placed under house arrest, Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
“It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent,” she said in a post on Twitter.
India’s interior ministry ordered all states to put security forces on “maximum alert” to maintain public order and quash the spread of any rumours.
Ram Madhav, general secretary of Modi’s BJP, hailed the government’s actions as ushering in a “glorious day”. In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, people shouted slogans of support on the streets.
In Pakistani-controlled areas of the region, however, there was anger at India, with protests extending to the capital, Islamabad and the southern commercial centre of Karachi.