Article 370 has been a bone of contention in Indian politics for years.
Introduced in 1949, it deals with special powers conferred upon Jammu and Kashmir state — which encompasses the section of the disputed Kashmir region controlled by India — enabling it to have its own constitution, flag and autonomy over all matters except certain policy areas such as foreign affairs and defense.
Revoking it was one of the BJP’s promises in the recently concluded Indian general elections.
“In the last five years, we have made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir through decisive actions and a firm policy…We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh (an earlier rightwing political that merged to form the current BJP) to the abrogation of Article 370,” the party stated in its manifesto for the 2019 general elections.
What happens now?
Under normal circumstances, in order to make a constitutional change such as 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 Kashmir’s People’s 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 Delhi.
That’s allowed 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 Narendra Modi’s government doing?
In addition to revoking Article 370, the government also said it would bring measures to modify the administrative status of Jammu and Kashmir. So far, it has been classed as a state but now it will become a union territory, giving the government in Delhi greater authority over its affairs.
“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, would be separated and turned into a standalone union territory.