India top court upholds move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy, orders elections

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India’s top court upheld a government decision to scrap the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi who earlier pledged to bring the restive region under his administration’s direct control.

The majority of the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench upheld the 2019 decision to remove the special status of the Himalayan region, said Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud.

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The court also directed the election commission to hold local polls in the region by September next year.

Security was stepped up across Indian-administered Kashmir ahead of the verdict, with authorities deploying hundreds of sol-diers, paramilitary troops, and police in the main city of Srinagar to thwart any protests.

Modi welcomed the judgement as “historic.”

It was “a beacon of hope, a promise of a brighter future and a testament to our collective resolve to build a stronger, more united India”, the Hindu nationalist leader posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Removing Article 370 has been a key plank of his Bharatiya Janata Party’s platform since its inception, and the Supreme Court de-cision comes ahead of elections next year.

Former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti -- who governed in coalition with the BJP but whose party was among the litigants in the Supreme Court case -- condemned the ruling as a “death sentence not just for Jammu and Kashmir but also for the idea of India.”

‘Moral compass’

One of the advocates who argued for the revocation to be ruled unconstitutional -- the Supreme Court held hearings on it for 16 days -- was sanguine.

“Some battles are fought to be lost,” Kapil Sibal posted on X, even before the verdict was read out, saying the court action was in-tended to ensure that “history must record the uncomfortable facts for generations to know.”

“History alone is the final arbiter of the moral compass of historic decisions,” he added.

The court ruling is a boost for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the national elections due next year.

Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status in August 2019 under Article 370 of the constitution, months after Modi’s party won elections by a landslide and the prime minister made good on a key election pledge.

India’s only Muslim-majority region, Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of more than 75 years of animosity with neighboring 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 came in response to more than a dozen petitions challenging the revocation and a subsequent decision to split the region into two federally administered territories.

The challengers maintained that only the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir could decide on the special status of the scenic 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 by parliament. It also ordered that the federal territory should return to being a state at the earliest opportunity.

The territory is divided among 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.

Bloomberg, Reuters & AFP

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