The Narendra Modi government had a stormy start on Tuesday after minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh claimed that the process to repeal Article 370 — which provides special status to Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) — had begun.
“The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to the stakeholders,” Singh told a private news channel.
The remark drew sharp reactions with J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah saying that Article 370 was the only constitutional link between J&K and rest of India. “Long after Modi government is a distant memory, either J&K won’t be part of India or Art 370 will still exist,” Abdullah tweeted.
As controversy raged over the Udhampur MP’s comments, the BJP chose to downplay the incident with law minister Ravishankar Prasad saying, “He might have said this but the government will take a structured view.”
Singh himself issued a clarification that said, “The reports in the media about my statement on Article 370 are misquoted. I have never said anything quoting the honourable PM. The controversy is totally baseless.”
However, in Kashmir, parties cutting across the political divide criticised his comments with CM Omar Abdullah saying that Article 370 cannot be ‘legally revoked and no government at the Centre can do it’.
“Article 370 has been ratified by a constitutional committee of the state which no longer exists. To revoke it, one needs to recall the constitutional committee that cannot be done without questioning Kashmir’s accession to India. Is the BJP ready to do that?’” Omar told HT.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti, whose party won 3 of the 6 Lok Sabha seats in the state, told HT, “The PM should tell his ministers not to have their foot in mouth and not speak out of turn. If the BJP believes in revoking Article 370, the PDP would be the first to react.”
The separatists, however, weren’t as forthcoming.
“This does not interest us as we question the very fact that Kashmir is part of India,’’ said Ayaz Akbar, spokesperson of the Hurriyat Conference.
Earlier in the day, Singh had reportedly said that PM Modi wanted a debate to convince people of the disadvantages of Article 370.
The 57-year-old BJP leader who defeated Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad, described Article 370 as a ‘psychological barrier’.
“The PM said we want to have a debate. This doesn’t mean we want to have a debate because certain sections of the media interpreted that the PM deviated from his stand. It’s not so. He said so with respect to the highest values of democratic system,” Singh had allegedly argued.