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Is he moderating his party's position on Article 370, or reiterating it? Modi has stoked the question.
Narendra Modi touched off many ripples when he spoke of a debate on Article 370, which gives Jammu and Kashmir autonomy in matters of citizenship, property ownership and other rights. At a rally in Jammu, Modi suggested debating whether Article 370 had helped the common citizen, leading to many interpretations of his motives. In the RSS and BJP worldview, the existence of Article 370 implies favouritism and special treatment to the Muslim-majority state. In its manifesto, the party has expressed staunch commitment to scrapping it, though it has been conspicuously silent on the matter while in power at the Centre.
So did Modi mean to stand apart from his party and suggest that one of its ironclad principles was open to discussion and empirical testing? If Article 370 is now negotiable, could the party also soften its view on its other "core issues"? It is possible that Modi was indicating his movement to the centre, to appeal to more constituencies, knowing that doctrinaire purity is impossible to maintain when in government. As prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, constrained by other forces, eschewed any mention of Article 370, reaching out to Kashmir through poetic euphemism about a solution within the ambit of humanity. In the recent past, Modi has made several attempts to recast his own image — whether in his relatively muted rhetoric on Pakistan, or even his Patna speech about how Hindus and Muslims should fight the common enemy of poverty. The latter speech, though, was soon undone by the irresponsible and gimmicky "asthi kalash yatra" in Bihar.