SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Main pro-India political parties in Indian-controlled Kashmir vowed Saturday to fight for restoration of the disputed region’s special status that was stripped last year, setting off widespread anger and economic ruin amid a harsh security clampdown.
Four pro-India Kashmiri political groups and two Indian political parties, including the main opposition Congress Party, said in a joint statement that India’s move “unrecognizably changed the relationship” between the region and New Delhi. It called the changes “spitefully shortsighted and unconstitutional” and sought to “collectively fight” them.
“We want to assure the people that all our political activities will be subservient to the sacred goal of reverting to the status of J&K as it existed on 4th August 2019,” the statement said.
On Aug. 5, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed legislation in Parliament that stripped Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, scrapped its separate constitution and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.
The region was also split into two federal territories – Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir. Indian authorities detained and arrested thousands of young people as well as pro-freedom Kashmir leaders and pro-India politicians.
Since then, the Indian government has imposed overarching restrictions, ranging from curfews to communication blackouts, and enacted new laws that have created a climate of fear.
As most of the pro-India leaders in recent months were released from detention and some restrictions removed, the politicians began consultations to chalk out their political strategy.
The statement, signatories of which include Indian Parliament member Farooq Abdullah, who also heads Kashmir’s oldest pro-India political party, and Ghulam Ahmed Mir, regional head of the opposition Congress Party, said New Delhi’s measures last year “were grossly unconstitutional.”
“The measures attempt to redefine who we are,” it said.
The Modi government has maintained that the changes are for the public good and national security to stop threats from Pakistan and “anti-national elements.”
India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in its entirety. Muslim Kashmiris generally support the rebels’ goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, with tens of thousands killed, including civilians, militants and government forces.
Relations between India and Pakistan have further been strained over Kashmir since last August. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the anti-India rebels. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
The tensions in Kashmir also come after a deadly faceoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers on June 15 along a disputed border in Ladakh that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.