Just two days into office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government finds itself mired in a controversy over repealing a constitutional provision that grants special status to Kashmir, a needless distraction for a new administration that must keep its focus on delivering on its election promises of boosting the economy and creating jobs.
Any move to repeal Article 370 would ignite passions and hand the opposition, especially the Congress, a tool to attack the new government with, leaving the latter to do some needless political firefighting, despite its strong electoral mandate.
And at a time when most Indians are looking to Modi to improve the economy and create jobs, spending political capital to pursue a controversial regional issue may just undermine public confidence in the new government’s ability to deliver on economic development, analysts say.
“It’s too silly to bring it up just when they are starting out,” Sebastian Morris, professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, told HT.
“There is so much people expect from this government in terms of the economy, in terms of improving standards of living. Instead, they may get caught up spending political capital on an issue that is not an immediate concern to the people who voted them to power.”
On his first day in office on Tuesday, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh stirred a hornet’s nest by saying the process to repeal Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir had been started.
The constitutional provision grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir and laws under this article alone govern the state, except for those relating to defence, foreign affairs and communications.
On Wednesday, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party which in the past has sought abrogation of Article 370, weighed into the controversy by saying there was no harm in debating the need for any special treatment to Kashmir. It did, however, add that there was no hurry to repeal the provision.
In any case, abrogating Article 370 may prove impossible for the BJP-led government. Even if it manages to muster two-thirds majority in Lok Sabha, it won’t be able to do so in the upper house where it has 57 members, far from the 164 it would require.
Also, the Article cannot be repealed without the approval of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, where both the dominant parties, the ruling National Congress and the opposition People’s Democratic Party, are opposed to it.
Given the issue’s limited appeal with rest of India, analysts said, people would be disappointed if the government did not quickly move to end the controversy.
“The government started on a very good note with its outreach to our neighbours,” said S Parasuraman, director of Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai.
“It would be sad if they get bogged down over such an issue. I hope the government quickly realises this.”