With the assembly elections coming up in J & K later this year, it comes as no surprise that controversy around Article 370 has gain erupted. Within 48 hours of taking oath of office, Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh on Tuesday triggered a controversy after he pitched for a debate on BJP’s stand demanding the repeal of Article 370 which guarantees special status for J&K. Mr Singh, who was elected as an MP from the Udhampur constituency, argued that the debate would convince the unconvinced that Article 370 has worked more against J & Ks interests than as an advantage for the State. This statement by the MoS should not be seen in isolation, but in the context of BJPs Lalkar rally in Jammu in Dec 2013, where Mr Narendra Modi called for a debate on Article 370.
The row over these comments by Mr Singh has already escalated, with the Chief Minister Mr Omar Abdullah saying that Article 370 cannot be revoked without the consent of the J & K Constituent Assembly. I fail to understand whom central government is talking regards repealing of Article 370. I am one of the stake holders of the state and am elected Chief Minister but nobody has talked to me about the issue so far. Neither any of my cabinet minister has been approached. So who centre is talking with, Omar told reporters in Srinagar. Maintaining that by touching Article 370, BJP is further alienating people of Kashmir, Omar said, I understand BJP has its own political compulsions but it should first fulfill its other promises. Why have they straight away started targeting J&K? If BJP wants to strengthen ties with J&K people, it should avoid making such statements as it will add to alienation. He also said that it is impossible to revoke this article since it will end the States accession to India.
Going by statements of both the sides, it seems they are playing to the gallery than finding a common meeting ground on this controversial issue. Article 370 was enacted since the understanding the then Indian Govt led by Jawahar Lal Nehru was that the State was not yet ready for integration with the Union of India. Perhaps there was a thinking that J&K would one day integrate like other States of the Union but for this to happen there had to be an atmosphere of real peace and only when the people of the State gave their consent to such an arrangement.
Over the years we have seen that rather than strengthening Article 370, its provisions have been continuously eroded by successive Govts in Delhi. It has only increased to the mistrust of the people of the State. Contrary to what BJP and other votaries of revocation of Article 370 think, it is not this article but its erosion over time which has added to a sense of alienation and the feeling of separatism. Had the Indian State been sincere in upholding the provisions of this Article, perhaps the State wouldn’t have witnessed separatist violence of the scale witnessed in the last two decades.
The debate on Article should be nuanced and carried out with sensitivity. But knowing that elections in J & K are round the corner, both BJP and the National Conference would try to exploit it electorally to take maximum political advantage out of it. In fact it is time that a debate is carried about strengthening Article 370 rather than scraping it.
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