It was an event tailor-made to generate controversy and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi did not disappoint in this regard. At a rally in Jammu, Mr Modi raised the emotive issue of Article 370 saying that it should be debated. The Article gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir and a degree of autonomy that other states do not have.
The BJP’s stated position all along has been to scrap the provision so Mr Modi’s remarks have created speculation that the party may be having a rethink on the subject. However, having raised this issue, Mr Modi went on to say, erroneously, that thanks to this provision, a woman marrying a non-state subject did not enjoy the same rights as a man doing the same.
To buttress his point, he cited the example of J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah and his sister Sara as having unequal rights on account of being married outside the state. And here, he was clearly on slippery ground, having overlooked that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had passed a ruling giving Kashmiri women rights to inherit and possess property if they married a non-state person. It struck many as odd that Mr Modi chose to dwell on Article 370 when most expected him to speak on terrorism, separatism, the death of our soldiers on the Line of Control and Pakistan’s ceasefire violations. He chose not to, opting to make promises to transform the state.
Mr Modi has questioned whether Article 370 had improved the lives of people or had only benefited a handful. The abrogation demand has obviously been played down because it is not just the National Conference which opposes this but also the PDP. Its leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has already expressed his opposition to any attempt to do away with the Article. However, it is difficult to see on what basis a debate can be held given that even Parliament is not constitutionally mandated to review or scrap Article 370. In fact, Article 1 of the Constitution which determines the territory of the country applies to Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of Article 370. If it is tampered with, the state’s bridge with the country becomes shaky and could raise the very accession issue.
Given this, Mr Modi might have done better to leave this issue alone. As a prime ministerial candidate, he has to weigh his words carefully because given his position, they will not be dismissed a mere election rhetoric anymore. He would have done better to follow the path of the BJP’s tallest leader and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was a staunch advocate of building bridges rather than dividing when it came to Jammu and Kashmir.