India’s Supreme Court has upheld the removal of special status from the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was revoked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2019.
The state, which had over 12 million people, was split into two federally administered territories. The court ordered elections to be held in the region by September 2024 and ordered the region to be restored as a state at the earliest.
Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud stated that the state does not have internal sovereignty different from other states.
The five-judge bench recommended an “impartial truth and reconciliation commission” to investigate human rights violations by both state and non-state actors over the past few decades.
The revocation was one of Modi’s poll promises in 2019 and comes months before he seeks a third term. Local politicians in the region have expressed disappointment over the order, with former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah posting on Twitter that he was “disappointed but not disheartened.”
The Jammu and Kashmir region was once a princely state that joined India in 1947. Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan have since fought two wars and a limited conflict over Kashmir, each controlling different parts of the territory with a ceasefire line agreed.
Security has been tightened in Kashmir since Monday morning, and the region witnessed a communication blackout when the revocation happened. The constitutional provision had underpinned India’s often fraught relationship with Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region to join India at partition.
The petitioners argued that the reorganization of Kashmir into Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as federally administered territories violated India’s constitution, which requires state legislative assembly approval to reduce a state to a union territory. They also claimed that the abrogation of Article 370 took away the region’s internal sovereignty without considering the will of its people.
The government claimed this sovereignty was surrendered to India in 1947. Many restrictions imposed after the scrapping of special status have been eased, and the picturesque Kashmir valley attracted over 16 million tourists in 2022.
The government is ready to hold state elections and restore statehood, but frequently imposes communication restrictions for security reasons, which rights groups criticize as measures to suppress dissent.