The Indian government has told the country’s top court that it stands ready to hold elections in Indian-administered Kashmir “at any time”.
“The central government is ready for elections at any time. “To date, the electoral roll update has been completed, which is essentially complete,” India’s Attorney General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court on Thursday, adding that election officials have yet to make a decision on when to conduct the elections.
Mehta is representing the federal government in court while a series of petitions are heard against New Delhi’s controversial 2019 move to end the region’s special status.
The last state elections in Indian-administered Kashmir were held in 2014.
In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was a member of a pro-India party-led coalition government, withdrew its support and forced the last-elected Prime Minister Mehbooba Mufti to resign.
Later that year, when two rival parties attempted to form an alliance to seize power, the region’s BJP-appointed governor dissolved the assembly. Since then, there have been no general elections in Indian-administered Kashmir.
On August 2 of this year, a chamber of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud began hearing petitions from Kashmiri and other groups and individuals alleging India’s move to abolish Article 370, the one administered by India Granting Kashmir its partial autonomy is illegal.
The special law granted the permanent residents of India’s only Muslim-majority region exclusive property and labor rights and allowed it to have its own constitution. It also banned outsiders from settling permanently or buying real estate in the region, which neighboring Pakistan also claims.
The Himalayan territory of Kashmir is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, both of which claim the entire territory and have fought two of their three all-out wars over it.
In the late 1980s, an armed uprising against Indian rule began in the Indian-administered Kashmir valley region. The Indian government responded by deploying more than half a million troops, turning the country into one of the most militarized conflict zones in the world.
Tens of thousands of people, including many civilians, have died in the conflict.
The situation worsened in 2019 when Modi’s government removed the region’s special status and brought it under the direct control of New Delhi, turning it into a federal territory ruled by a handpicked administrator.
Since then, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has passed a series of laws and policies that residents of the valley say are aimed at changing the region’s demographics and denying them their historic rights to their lands and livelihoods.
“Restoring democracy is vital”
Meanwhile, a group of Kashmiri political parties and other groups submitted a petition to the Supreme Court challenging India’s move and demanding the rights guaranteed to the region in the constitution.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court asked the government if there was a concrete timeline for restoring full statehood to the region. “Restoring democracy is vital,” the court noted.
Mehta, the government adviser, told the court Thursday he did not have a precise timeframe for restoring full statehood to Indian-administered Kashmir, but insisted the federal territory status was only a temporary phenomenon.
Mehta also claimed that “normalcy” has returned to the region as instances of armed riots and stone-throwing by residents against security forces have decreased. He said the region is seeing investment from business groups to boost its economy.
However, Kapil Sibal, a lawyer and former Indian justice minister who appeared for the petitioners, denied the government’s claims of normality.
The ruling BJP has called Article 370 “a dead chapter” and hopes the court will come to the same conclusion when it comes to the verdict in this case.
However, the petitioners argue that the law has a permanent status and not a temporary provision. Sibal said the repeal of Article 370 was “politically and unilaterally decided by the government [political] Executive”.
“You can’t bring a bill into Parliament at 11 a.m [in the night] and make a decision without anyone knowing about it… Why? Because you are subject to the constraints of the constitution,” he said, referring to the August 5, 2019 session of the Indian Parliament that passed the law abolishing the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Hasnain Masoodi of the Region’s National Conference Party, one of the petitioners to the Supreme Court, told Al Jazeera, “The rationale in our petitions is that repealing Article 370 was unconstitutional.”
“The other side has not been able to stop this argument,” he said, calling the law “a self-contained provision.”
Masoodi said Article 3 of the Indian Constitution does not allow the government to split or downgrade a state.
“The arguments have progressed so far [in the court] “Make us very hopeful,” he said, adding that the other side was just presenting a “narrative of normalcy.”
Source : www.aljazeera.com