India’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the 2019 decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to revoke the special status of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. The region, previously semi-autonomous with a separate constitution and protections on land and jobs, had its special status deemed a “temporary provision,” and its removal was deemed constitutionally valid by the five-judge constitutional bench.
The move led to the division of the region into two federal territories, Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir, both directly governed by the central government without their own legislature. This marked the first time in India’s history that a region’s statehood was downgraded to a federally administered territory, with unelected officials governing the Muslim-majority region.
Many Muslim Kashmiris perceive these changes as an annexation, asserting that new laws were introduced to alter the region’s demographic composition. In what New Delhi terms as “Naya Kashmir” or a “new Kashmir,” civil liberties in the region have been curtailed, and dissent has been met with intolerance, as the government aims to shape its vision for the territory.
Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud acknowledged the government’s promise to restore Jammu-Kashmir’s statehood and urged prompt action. However, Ladakh will continue to remain a federal territory. The court also directed the election commission to conduct local legislative polls in the region by September 30.
The ruling is anticipated to bolster the electoral prospects of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the upcoming national polls next year. The 2019 decision was celebrated by many in India, fulfilling a longstanding Hindu nationalist pledge to revoke the special status of the Muslim-majority region.
Despite the positive reception in parts of India, the judgment is likely to disappoint many in Kashmir, including pro-India politicians who had sought the Supreme Court’s intervention to reverse the unpopular decision. The region’s status has been in limbo since the 1947 division of British India into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The part of Kashmir controlled by India was granted semi-autonomy in exchange for accepting Indian rule, but a promised UN referendum on the territory’s future never materialized.