The BJP has decided to include the repealing of Article 370 of the Constitution that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir in its poll manifesto for the northern state, ignoring voices of dissent within the party.
Several BJP poll candidates from Kashmir have opposed the party’s stand on the sensitive issue with its pick from Srinagar’s Amira Kadal constituency Hina Bhat saying she would be the first to pick up a gun if Article 370 was abrogated.
“If the Article is touched, it will force Kashmiris to pick up guns again. And you know I am a Kashmiri too,” she had reportedly said.
Party candidate from Homeshalibugh in Anantnag district Ghulam Nabi Dar had also allegedly said he would allow no one to “play” with the Article.
A Kashmiri woman displays a placard reading 'We will preserve article 370 at all costs' during a march in Srinagar in 2004. (AFP Photo)
The state is headed for five-phase polls, beginning on November 25, with the BJP looking to expand its footprint into the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley as part of its mission to secure a majority in the 87-member-strong assembly.
The saffron party’s hardened stance may have an adverse impact on its electoral prospects in the Valley but is expected to pay rich dividends in the Hindu-majority Jammu region.
The controversial Article 370 ensures the state’s residents live under a separate set of laws as compared to other states, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property and fundamental rights. The provision also stipulates that citizens from other states cannot purchase land or property in Jammu and Kashmir.
A demand for removing the sensitive clause has been a part of the BJP’s manifesto for decades now and party leaders feel any move to dilute its stand will antagonize its vote base outside the Valley.
“This has been an important agenda of our manifesto and will remain so. We want to discuss whether this article has benefited the state or just a few families only,” party’s J&K spokesman Khalid Jehangir told HT.
Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh also said the BJP’s stand on Article 370 was “very clear”.
“All issues, including Article 370, which have been part of the BJP manifesto all these years, will be part of the agenda in the state,” he told reporters in Jammu earlier this week.
In its Lok Sabha poll manifesto, the BJP had reiterated its stand on Article 370, saying it would discuss the issue with all stakeholders and remained committed to the abrogation of the clause.
Minister of state for external affairs VK Singh, however, took a conflicting stand, in an attempt to woo voters in Kashmir. “BJP never said Article 370 is to be removed or amended,” he said in Srinagar on Saturday.
“Article 370 got introduced somewhere because people kept asking about it. And I think all that the party said was that we need to re-look at all things that unnecessarily create problems,” he said.