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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Picture: REUTERS
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Picture: REUTERS

New Delhi — India’s supreme court upheld on Monday a 2019 decision by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revoke special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir and set a deadline of September 30 next year for local polls to be held.

India’s only Muslim-majority region, Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of more than 75 years of animosity with neighbouring Pakistan since the birth of the two nations in 1947 at independence from colonial rule by Britain.

The unanimous order by a panel of five judges followed more than a dozen petitions challenging the revocation and a subsequent decision to split the region into two federally administered territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and the Buddhist territory of Ladakh.

It sets the stage for elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which was more closely integrated with India after the government’s move, taken in line with a long-standing promise of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The decision is a shot in the arm for the government before a general election due by May.

The challengers maintained that only the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir could decide on the special status of the mountain region, and contested whether parliament had the power to revoke it.

The court said special status was a temporary constitutional provision that could be revoked. It ordered that Jammu and Kashmir should return to being a state at the earliest opportunity.

“Article 370 was an interim arrangement due to war conditions in the state,” chief justice DY Chandrachud said, referring to the provision of the Indian constitution which provided the special status after the first India-Pakistan war over the Himalayan region.

“Textual reading also indicates that it is a temporary provision,” Chandrachud said.

Modi called the judgment “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,” Modi posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“The court, in its profound wisdom, has fortified the very essence of unity that we, as Indians, hold dear and cherish above all else.”

Kashmir is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region of Jammu; Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west; and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

Pakistan’s caretaker government rejected the court verdict.

“International law doesn’t recognise India’s unilateral and illegal actions” of 2019, caretaker foreign minister Jalil Abbas Jilani posted on X.

“The judicial endorsement by the Indian Supreme Court has no legal value,” he said. Kashmiris have an inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, he said.

Islamabad would write to the UN, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and the EU to apprise them of the Indian court decision and its “illegality”, said Jilani.

Political parties in Kashmir that opposed the revocation, and were among those that went to court, said they were disappointed by the verdict.

Security was stepped up before the verdict in a region roiled by militant violence and protests since the start of an anti-India insurgency in 1989. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, though violence has tapered off in recent years.

“Disappointed but not disheartened,” Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister and vice-president of the Jammu and 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.

Reuters

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