After Modi's remarks on Article 370, Cong, others say no chance of review

Narendra ModiModi said that women had not been given equal rights in J&K unlike in other parts of the country. (AP)
BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's remarks on Article 370 of the Constitution triggered a debate on Monday with the Congress and parties in Jammu and Kashmir rejecting any review of the provision, while the BJP dismissed any suggestions that it has softened its stand on the issue.

Modi's other remark that women of Jammu and Kashmir don't enjoy equal rights as they lose their rights of inheritance if they marry outside the state was also rebutted by mainstream parties in the state.

Addressing a rally in Jammu on Sunday, Modi had called for a debate on whether Article 370 has been beneficial to the state or not. This marked a change from the BJP's earlier stand that the provision should be completed abrogated.

But BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj said it would be incorrect to interpret Modi's demand for a debate as a "softening" of the party's stand on Article 370.

"We need rational & focused debate not only on 370 but other issues relating to J&K, including suffering of sections of J&K society," Modi tweeted on Monday. "Glad that after my call for a debate on Article 370, it is being widely debated among people & across TV, social media."

But the mainstream parties in J&K, including the National Conference, PDP and CPI(M), attacked Modi for raking up "divisive" issues and said Article 370 cannot be amended because of its "permanent" nature.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said Modi was confusing Article 370, which provides special status to J&K, with the state's residency law. "My problem is with people like Modi, who knowingly or unknowingly... seek to sort of join Article 370 with our state subject laws," he said.

"Article 370 determines the relation between the Centre and the state. It is the bridge that joins Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country. Our state subject laws are our own. The state subject law as it exists now is not even a post-independence product. It is a pre-independence product," he said.

"Not so long ago when he came to Madhopur, the border between J&K and Punjab, Modi called for complete abrogation of Article 370. What he says in J&K and what he says in the rest of country, we will have to see," he said.

"Article 370 is permanent and cannot be scrapped. Even parliament is not constitutionally mandated to review or scrap it," said PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. "We express concern at the serious gaps in the constitutional knowledge...of BJP's prime ministerial candidate," he said.

He said 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," said Sayeed.

"One had expected the prime ministerial candidate 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," said Sayeed, adding that Modi's remarks on Article 370 are nothing more than "electoral rhetoric".

The Congress advised Modi to discuss the issue with the Sangh Parivar first. "As far as my party is concerned, there is clarity on the issue (of Article 370). If Modi wants to debate, he should debate it within BJP and the Sangh... We have no objection if they want a public debate," said party general secretary Digvijaya Singh. He also said he "does not take Modi's statement very seriously" as he "keeps changing" it from one place to another.

Union Minister Manish Tewari was quick to dismiss Modi's remarks, saying it reveals BJP's doublespeak. "The manner in which they speak about Article 370 and Article 371 makes me conclude that they neither read the Constitution of India nor they have cared about detail," he said.

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