Art. 370: A storm in election season?
Gujarat chief minister and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, while campaigning in Jammu on Sunday, opened up the issue of Article 370 of the Constitution, that accords a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. And while he sought to give the impression that he wanted to initiate a debate on whether this provision should remain or go, he also pointed to what he considered the downside of continuing with this clause that enabled the smooth integration of the former princely state with the Indian Union. Mr Modi made it clear, therefore, which side of the debate he was on.
But in his effort to arouse his audience by pointing to what he considered Article 370‚Äôs deficiencies ‚ÄĒ in so far as it affects ordinary citizens ‚ÄĒ Mr Modi seems to have got his facts wrong, confirming his reputation for being ill-informed or good-naturedly distorting information to suit a political purpose. Giving a misleading example, he said for example that when a Kashmiri woman marries someone outside the state, she loses her status as a ‚Äústate subject‚ÄĚ. That is not consistent with the facts.
The ‚Äústate subjects‚ÄĚ question is, however, signficant as only this category of persons ‚ÄĒ deemed to denote those rooted in J&K ‚ÄĒ are permitted to own land and property in the state. Those who want the speedy end of Article 370 often do so in the hope that it will open up the property market in J&K to people from other parts of the country.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not put Article 370 on his government‚Äôs agenda though scrapping this provision was a key issue for the RSS and BJP. which had campaigned all along for it. It appears now that Mr Modi plans to bring it back into focus in his election campaign (just as his acolyte Amit Shah did in the case of the Babri Masjid/Ram Mandir issue). People in Jammu, of course, might be more receptive to such a call unlike those in the Kashmir Valley.
Mr Modi has also indicated that J&K should be given the chance to benefit from various national laws. But key national provisions, such as the writ of the Supreme Court, already apply to Kashmir in spite of Article 370‚Äôs existence. The BJP‚Äôs PM nominee has said parties that try to ‚Äúwash away their sins‚ÄĚ by reciting the benefits of secularism add to their mantra the issue of Article 370 when it comes to J&K. This is an indication of his bias, not the merits of this particular provision. Kashmir‚Äôs integration with the Indian Union was smoothened due to Article 370‚Äôs existence, but over the years its impact has been diluted somewhat as more national laws were applied to the state.