NEW DELHI – The Indian parliament was on Tuesday all set to pass a contentious bill that would divide the country’s only Muslim-majority state of Kashmir into two federally-administered regions, revoking special constitutional privileges and stripping semi-autonomous status of the region disputed with Pakistan.
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was okayed by the Rajya Sabha or the upper house of the parliament, its passage in the Lok Sabha, the lower house, is almost a foregone conclusion, considering the government enjoys a comfortable majority with 56 percent of the seats.
“This is a historic moment India. What we’re discussing today will impact generations,” India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said while presenting the bill.
Shah, a right-hand man of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said that “this bill and resolution will ensure that Jammu and Kashmir will remain with India forever.”
With the passing of the bill and the annulment of the state’s semi-autonomous status, the region will lose all the powers of the constitution that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status and exclusive rights to its permanent residents to properties there.
The step is likely to end up changing demography of the state which is claimed by Pakistan and India and ruled in parts by both.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had promised in its election manifesto earlier this year to revoke the special rights of the Himalayan state. The move is widely seen as the Hindu nationalist BJP’s larger plan to make India a Hindu state.
According to the new legislation, Jammu – a Hindu majority region – and Kashmir – a Muslim majority region – will become a centrally-ruled union territory with a legislature that has limited powers. Once done, people from across the country will be able to settle down in the region.
Ladakh, a sparsely populated region in the state’s east, will be the second union territory which will not have its own legislature and will be ruled directly by the central government.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Indian National Congress, on criticized the “unilateral” measure of the government and tweeted: “National integration isn’t furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K (...) This nation is made by its people, not plots of land.
“This abuse of executive power has grave implications for our national security,” said Gandhi, who also drew attention to the house arrest of some nationalist leaders from the region, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
The origin of Kashmir’s special status goes back to 1947, which – after the partition of British India into India and Pakistan – was given certain privileges after the region’s last autocratic ruler decided to join the Indian union under the condition of granting the state its special rights.