India’s Supreme Court upheld on Monday a 2019 decision by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revoke special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir and set a deadline of Sept 30 next year for state polls to be held.
India’s only Muslim-majority region, Jammu and Kashmir has been at the heart of more than 75 years of animosity with neighbouring 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.
It sets the stage for elections in the region, which was more closely integrated with India after the government’s contentious move, taken in line with a key longstanding promise of Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The decision is a shot in the arm for the government ahead of general elections due by May.
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.