India and China have exchanged a war of words over Kashmir after the disputed territory’s constitutional autonomy was formally revoked, splitting it in two.
At midnight on Wednesday the state was formally taken under direct federal control and split into the territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, bringing an end to decades of semi-autonomous rule.
Shops and offices were shut throughout the region yesterday and the streets largely deserted in its main city Srinagar as new administrators were sworn into office in what Reuters describes as “the biggest restructuring of the 173-year-old former princely kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir”.
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Its constitution, as well as its penal code and state flag, have been nullified, and the region is now subject to the same central laws as all other Indian territories.
The decision by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, to change Kashmir’s status and tighten the government’s grip over the region in August “has stoked anger and resentment while a three-decade armed revolt rages” reports The Guardian.
Pakistan, which claims the whole of Kashmir, has condemned the move and protesters took to the streets on its part of the territory.
Its ally China, which is locked in a separate decades-old dispute with India over the part of Kashmir called Ladakh, also slammed India for unilaterally changing its status.
Delhi immediately hit back at China, saying the reorganisation is entirely its internal affair and it does not expect other countries to comment on such matters.
The diplomatic rift comes just days after Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held an informal summit in southern India vowing to improve political and economic ties.
The Muslim-majority region of the country has been a tension point between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947.
In August, India deployed tens of thousands of troops to annex Kashmir ahead of revoking its special status, which guaranteed exclusive rights to land, government jobs and college places aimed at protecting the state’s distinct demographic character as the country’s only Muslim-majority state.
Since then, the region has been placed under “a massive clampdown fearing an uprising” which has included a communication blackout, heavy deployment of security forces, and a never-ending curfew, reports Quartz.
The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party headed by Modi has long argued the special privileges have hindered Kashmir’s development and fuelled separatism, but opponents decry the move to downgrade them as a blatent power grab. Experts say the move could open the way for a demographic change in India's only Muslim-majority state, reports CNN.
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