India's Kashmir goes dark as phone lines, internet suspended in widening clampdown

A foreign tourist boards a passenger vehicle as he along with others leave Srinagar August 4, 2019.
Phone and internet services were suspended in Indian Kashmir on Monday and state leaders placed under house arrest, deepening fears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government plans to weaken the special rights of residents in the disputed region.

The clampdown began in the early hours of Monday when Indian authorities said they were imposing restrictions on public movement and shutting all educational institutions in the main Srinagar city.

There has been no word on the clampdown from the federal government in New Delhi, which rules the troubled state since last year after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew from a coalition with a local party.

The federal cabinet was meeting at Modi’s residence on Monday to discuss the situation, and Indian media said the government was likely to make a statement in parliament on the situation in Kashmir later in the day.

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Some regional leaders around midnight tweeted saying they have been or feared being arrested.

The leaders had previously expressed fears that Modi’s federal government may try to withdraw decades-old special rights conferred on the state, including an amendment to the Indian constitution that prevents people from outside the state from buying property there.

There have also been concerns that Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP could move to abolish Kashmir’s autonomous status, a plan that has in the past provoked warnings of a backlash in the Muslim-majority state.

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Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of the state, said he believed he was being placed under house arrest, appealing to people to stay calm.

Mehbooba Mufti, another ex-chief minister and Modi’s former ally, said it was “ironic that elected representatives like us who fought for peace are under house arrest.”

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A spokesman for India’s federal home ministry in New Delhi did not respond to a request for comment.

“To place two former Chief Ministers under house arrest is unprecedented and unacceptable. Would it happen in any other state of India? Is this how we build trust among the Kashmiris?” prominent historian and columnist Ramachandra Guha said on Twitter.

Tensions in Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, have risen since Friday, when local Indian officials issued an alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups.

Pakistan has rejected those assertions, but thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers left the region in panic over the weekend.

Indian authorities also issued a notice for Srinagar city saying there “shall be no movement of (the) public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed” until further orders.

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Three local government officials told Reuters early on Monday that mobile internet services in the region had been suspended. Reuters was not able to reach its reporters in the region as the communication networks were blocked.

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