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India leaves Kashmir in the dark as it erases special status

A woman walks by security forces today in Indian-administered Kashmir. Photo: Rakesh Bakshi AFP/Getty Images

Residents of Indian-administered Kashmir were largely confined to their homes and cut off from the outside world today while the government in New Delhi unwound the constitutional provisions that defined their place within India for seven decades.

What’s happening: Before making its move, India’s government dispatched thousands of troops to Kashmir, evacuated tourists, detained at least two influential politicians and cut off internet access.

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist administration then revoked constitutional provisions intended to enshrine Jammu and Kashmir — India’s only majority-Muslim state — as an exception within the country.
  • Those provisions guaranteed significant political autonomy, as well as control over land ownership and residency status.

After rescinding Kashmir's special status in a choreographed series of steps, Modi's government plans to slice the state into two pieces over which Delhi will have greatly increased control.

  • The moves rest on shaky legal ground and are almost certain to be challenged all the way to India’s supreme court.
  • Despite India’s show of force, unrest is likely in the coming days.

The big picture: Kashmir has been a source of conflict between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947 and is now effectively split between the countries. Jammu and Kashmir is on the Indian side of the “line of control.”

  • Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claims the separate status of Jammu and Kashmir has fueled political separatism and blocked much-needed investment.
  • The party’s persecution of India’s Muslim majority has led to fears it wants to change the state’s demography and dilute its power.

On the ground: “By the time we woke up this morning, the internet was gone and we now have no mobile connectivity,” the BBC’s Aamir Peerzada writes from Kashmir’s capital.

  • “If people step out of their homes, they see paramilitary forces on every street. … It's an atmosphere of fear. People are scared to come out, they have stockpiled food for months.”

Between the lines: Alyssa Ayres of the Council on Foreign Relations tells Axios this has been a longtime BJP priority, but the government still took the world by surprise in doing it so suddenly "under cloak of night."

  • Ayres notes that the move happened just 2 weeks after President Trump claimed, in a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, that Modi had asked him to mediate in Kashmir. India stridently denied that.
  • “People in India are suggesting that this kind of prompted the Indian government to take action now,” Ayres said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not.”

What to watch: Modi was re-elected in May with a massive mandate after campaigning not on economic reform, as in 2014, but on whipping up nationalist sentiment. This could be a sign of what's to come in his second term.

  • “Pivoting to emphasize the Hindu nationalist cultural and legal issues can be responsive to their supporters, even at a time when they’re not able to go back to people and say, ‘hey, we’ve succeeded in bringing greater prosperity to you and your family,' ” Ayres says.
  • While this is a "BJP base issue," Ayres notes, "the BJP base has really expanded across India."