India’s supreme court has ruled that the government acted lawfully when it revoked the autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and brought it directly under control of the centre.
Article 370, which for almost 70 years had enshrined special rights for Jammu and Kashmir outside the Indian constitution, was revoked by the government of Narendra Modi in August 2019 through a presidential order, with no consultation with the Kashmiri people.
Speaking on Monday, the chief justice of India, D Y Chandrachud, upheld the government’s decision and said it had not overreached its powers.
The abrogation of article 370 was enforced by a lengthy crackdown on the state, where the military was mobilised in huge numbers, political leaders were jailed, a strict curfew was imposed and the internet was shut down for 18 months. It was stripped of its statehood and its political representation was dissolved and has not been restored since.
The legality of the government’s actions had been raised in India’s highest court. It took almost four years before it was finally heard by the panel of supreme court judges earlier this year.
Prior to the judgment, on Monday Kashmir’s political leaders alleged they had been placed under de facto house arrest as the gates of their homes were chained shut, and movement was restricted in the state.
In his verdict, Chandrachud said article 370 was only meant to be “temporary” after the region’s accession to India after independence and was therefore no longer valid in the current circumstances. The judges described article 370 as “asymmetric federalism” and said the Indian constitution should apply fully to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Jammu and Kashmir did not retain any sovereignty after accession to India,” said Chandrachud.
Controversy over the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir pre-dates India’s independence in 1947, when it was contested between India and Pakistan during partition.
After Jammu and Kashmir became part of the Indian union, article 370 was passed initially as a temporary measure to enshrine certain independent rights and protections for Kashmiris, including their own constitution and flag. It was later affirmed as a more permanent measure in the state through various court rulings.
Kashmir has long-remained the most sensitive pressure point in India and Pakistan’s acrimonious relationship. In the 1990s, a pro-Pakistan militant insurgency emerged in India-administered Kashmir and the state has battled the issue of terrorism and militancy since.
Monday’s supreme court ruling is a victory for the government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which has been promising to revoke article 370 for years. The party had justified the action on the basis of bringing the security situation in the state under control, though militant attacks have continued since.
There was anger at the verdict among Kashmir’s political leaders, who have faced house arrest and harassment since August 2019. Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister who was deposed from power, said revoking article 370 was “unjust, illegal and unconstitutional” and that its justification by the supreme court was “no less than news of a death sentence not only for Jammu and Kashmir but also for the idea of India”.
“No verdict is final, even if it is from the supreme court,” she added. “This is a political fight which has been going on for the past several decades. Our people have given huge sacrifices for achieving dignity of life and we will not leave it unfulfilled.”
Aakash Hassan contributed reporting