In a speech likely to evoke sharp responses from political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Thursday called for repeal of Article 370, which confers a special status on the State, saying it had fostered a “secessionist psyche.”
Article 370 paved the way for loosening of the political and constitutional relationship between the State and the rest of India, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha argued, adding it “should wither away.
He was speaking at a discussion organised here by the Jammu Kashmir Study Centre and Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. “We are isolated in seeking its repeal,” Mr. Jaitley said, “but it is a splendid isolation.” “It is time to end this debate on whether Article 370 can be repealed,” he said. Even [Prime Minister] Jawaharlal Nehru, at the time of taking a decision on Article 370, had said it is a temporary arrangement, which will wither. Unfortunately, over the years it has been made out to be a sacrosanct provision. The BJP might be the only political party speaking against its continuation, but the sentiment is echoed by the people in this country.”
Mr. Jaitley said the pre-1953 status for the State as demanded by the National Conference, which includes a separate Constitution, flag, Prime Minister and permits, would only lead to weakening of the ties between the Centre and the State.
As for the People’s Democratic Party’s demand for self-rule, he said it was in line with the separatist thought process.
Expressing concern over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent comments that an agreement was “almost” reached with Pakistan over Kashmir, the BJP leader said: “I hope it was not the agreement to have soft borders, free movement, cantonment dilution, joint administration for a certain period of time, demilitarisation as was Pakistan’s suggestion. There is no space for negotiating on territory.”
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose party casts Article 370 as the keystone of Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional linkages with the Indian republic, responded sharply to Mr. Jaitley.
“First, Narendra Modi said he wanted a debate on Article 370,” Mr. Abdullah told The Hindu. Then, BJP president Rajnath Singh said he was happy with Article 370 if it was beneficial. Now, Mr. Jaitley says he wants it to go.”
“Perhaps the BJP should make up its mind on what it thinks before the rest of us respond,” he said.
(With inputs from Praveen Swami)