Climbing down from its long-held stance for abrogation of Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to call for a debate on the issue, in its manifesto for the state assembly polls.
“The manifesto states that while the party is in-principle committed to abrogation of Article 370, we will call for a national debate to make people aware of the provision’s harm to Indian sovereignty,” said a senior BJP leader privy to the draft of the manifesto, likely to be released this week.
The apparent softening of stance is in line with the BJP’s near-silence on the issue — barring a statement in May by PMO minister of state and Udhampur MP Jitendra Singh — as well as the move of engaging former separatist Sajjad Lone, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.
A hint about the subtle but significant change was dropped by Jitendra in Jammu on Tuesday when he said that while the ideological stance of the party was known on Article 370, "in election, priority is given to aspirations of the people". "BJP’s stand on Article 370 — its abrogation — is clear and known to the people… But in the coming elections, the aspiration of the people is to end years and years of misrule, corruption and misappropriation of central funds," Singh told reporters.
The BJP, which won three parliamentary seats in the state, all in the Jammu region, had made this subtle change in its electioneering in the Lok Sabha polls too. Modi had said in an address that the party wanted debate on Article 370. It was seen as an attempt to warm up to the people of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where the BJP has been seen as pariah so far.
However, to strike a balance with its "core ideology" of ending separatism and striking balance among all three regions of the state, the manifesto will call for five-year rather than six-year tenure of the assembly, it is learnt. J&K is the only state which not only has its own Constitution but six-year tenure of the assembly. The BJP and many others believe this aids separatism.
The manifesto will also call for giving J&K citizenship rights to wards of women married to men who are not residents of the state. Only permanent residents — for which a State Subject Certificate is given — are entitled to buy land and apply for government jobs in J&K.
At present, while women who marry outside continue to be permanent residents of the state even if they marry a non-resident of J&K, their children forfeit this right.
The manifesto will also promise change in the name of the state to ‘Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh’.