Narendra Modi says Article 370 needs `rational debate`; BJP defends, others fume

The political battle over Bharatiya Janata Party`s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi`s demand for a debate on whether Article 370 of the Constitution of India was actually beneficial to the people of Jammu and Kashmir has intensified.

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi/Jammu: The political battle over Bharatiya Janata Party`s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi`s demand for a debate on whether Article 370 of the Constitution of India was actually beneficial to the people of Jammu and Kashmir has intensified.

Reiterating his stance, Modi on Monday also said a rational and focused debate is needed on Article 370 and also on other issues relating to Jammu and Kashmir.

On microblogging website Twitter, Modi tweeted that he is glad that his call for a debate on Article 370 is being "widely debated among people and across TV and social media".

"Jaitley ji has brought out the discriminatory attitude in J&K...said this has no place in Law," said Modi.

The Gujarat Chief Minister added: "No one can ignore sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits for so many years. We remain committed to working towards justice for the community."

Modi`s view is, notably, in stark contrast with that of BJP which has so far favoured the out-and-out scrapping of Article 370.

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday defended Modi`s demand and rejected opposition claims that Modi is stirring another controversy to gain ground for the BJP ahead of next year`s General Elections.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said Modi`s remarks were misinterpreted. Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari maintained that Article 370 has come in the way of Kashmir`s development and demanded its abrogation. BJP vice president and spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: "Article 370 is an obstacle to the development of Kashmir. We have always said the reason for Kashmir being away from mainstream development is Article 370."

Meanwhile, BJP`s senior leader Captain Abhimanyu defended Modi`s demand, saying his party believes that abrogation of Article 370 will bring J&K into mainstream and will help the people there. BJP`s former president Nitin Gadkari said it is because of Article 370 that there is no development in J&K. He added that no hotel, colleges, or industries are coming into Kashmir. How will employment and tourism increase in the northern state, asked Gadkari, who favours abrogation of Article 370.

The opposition parties continued to react, with Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari claimed to have exposed the BJP`s double-speak.

The 2004 vision document of BJP does not mention abrogation of Article 370, noted Tewari.

Is the turnaround on Article 370 final nail in legacy of Vajpayee ji and Advani ji? Venkaiha ji, who signed the vision document, should explain the U-turn, added Tewari.

Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, said Modi has "lowered the level of debate so much that it is a wonder he aspires for a high post. He should think about this."

Article 370 has a serious important history to it. It was to give confidence to Indians that their culture would be preserved, added Khurshid.

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh reacted to Modi`s demand by saying he does not have any problem with a debate, but the BJP might have it within the party. Congress women`s wing chief Shobha Oza, meanwhile, said Ram Mandir and Article 370 have been the BJPs election issues since forever.

Earlier in the day, People`s Democratic Party chief Mufti Mohammed Sayeed hit out at Modi, saying the Gujarat Chief Minister`s call for debate on Article 370 shows that he needs constitutional knowledge.

The former J&K chief minister also said Article 370 providing special status to Jammu and Kashmir has gained a permanent status after the Constitutional Assembly of the state approved it and cannot be scrapped.

"Article 370 is permanent and cannot be scrapped. Even Parliament is not constitutionally mandated to review or scrap it," Sayeed said.

"We express concern at the serious gaps in the constitutional knowledge (with regard to Article 370) of BJP`s Prime Ministerial candidate," he said.

The PDP patron said that Modi`s comments can create fissures within the state besides increasing trust deficit between the state and rest of the country.

"If Modi aspires for the top job of a country as diverse as India he will have to rise above prejudices, perceptions, propaganda and work for uniting people rather than dividing them," he said.

"His raking up of Article 370 is a very disturbing indicator of his approach to sensitivities of the people of Jammu and Kashmir who acceded to India in pursuit of some dreams which still elude them and constitutional guarantees that can neither be withdrawn nor wished away," the PDP patron said.

"One had expected the prime ministerial candidate hopeful to steer clear of the divisive issues and follow Atal Bihari Vajpayee in building bridges rather than sparking off controversies that have no relevance except trying to reap votes at the cost of national interest," he said.

He said that Modi`s remarks on Article 370 is nothing more than "electoral rhetoric".

"Even the Article 1 of the constitution of India determining the territory of the country applies to J&K by virtue of Article 370 only. Scrap this bridge with rest of the country and the entire gamut of accession and related issues stare in your face," Sayeed said.

On Modi`s remarks that women had not been given equal rights in the state unlike in other parts of the country, he said, "It is factually incorrect to say that women of Jammu and Kashmir do not enjoy equal rights. Any woman of the state who marries outside does not lose her inheritance rights".

Meanwhile, PDP spokesperson Naeem Akhtar said: "Modi or anyone else cannot make any changes in Article 370 without changing the fundamentals of the relations between J&K and other parts of the country".

National Conference leader Sheikh Mustafa Kamal claimed that Article 370 has been tampered by all leadership in Delhi, whether in power or outside power, including Modi. Another NC leader Mehboob Beg asked Modi to correct his facts. "Let Parliament debate it but I don`t think it can review or scrap Article 370," added Beg.

The Janata Dal (United) added to the debate by saying that Modi and the BJP have wrong intentions. "Narendra Modi and BJP want to remove Article 370. This was the reason we kicked them out," JD(U) leader Ali Anwar said. Meanwhile, Janata Dal (United) leader KC Tyagi asked: "Going to Jammu and opposing Article 370, isn`t this communalising politics there?"

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had also reacted with a barrage of posts on microblogging social networking site Twitter to contest the criticism levelled against him and his government by Modi during his maiden public rally in Jammu on Sunday.

Modi said there needs to be a debate on whether Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was actually beneficial to the people of the state. He said it deprived women taking a spouse from outside the state of their domicile right. Omar retorted in his comment on this: "I challenge him or any of his minions to reproduce verbatim the section of Art 370 that determines the Jammu and Kashmir state subject law."

Modi said under Article 370 Omar`s sister who is married to Sachin Pilot did not enjoy the same rights in the state as Omar did. To this, Omar replied: "He very conveniently used me and my sister as examples to illustrate a point that has no bearing in truth. Either he lies or is ill-informed."

(With Agency inputs)

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