A statement by minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, on Tuesday sparked the new government’s first controversy when he said the Narendra Modi government was open to debate on Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir,while making it clear that efforts would be made through this exercise to “convince” the “unconvinced”.
Soon after, Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah strongly objected to the minister’s statement and tweeted, “So the new MOS PMO says process/discussions to revoke Art 370 have started. Wow, that was a quick beginning. Not sure who is talking.”
He went on to add, “Mark my words & save this tweet – long after Modi Govt is a distant memory either J&K won’t be part of India or Art 370 will still exist.”
“Art 370 is the ONLY constitutional link between J&K & rest of India. Talk of revocation of not just ill informed it’s irresponsible,” he added.
NDTV later quoted Jitendra Singh as saying, “the statement on Article 370 has been misquoted, the controversy is totally baseless,”
Repeating the stand of Modi during his rally in December last year, Singh, a first time Parliament member and a surprise choice as minister of state in the PMO, had earlier in the day said, “his (Modi’s) intention and that of the government is that we have a debate so that we can convince the unconvinced about the disadvantages of Article 370,” PTI reported.
“If we do not have debate and discussion how would you be able to tell those who have been unable to understand what they have been deprived of on account of Article 370,” he said after taking over as minister of state in-charge of department of personnel and training, which has administrative control over the CBI.
57-year-old Singh said Article 370 was more of a psychological barrier than a physical one and added that the Modi-led government was open to debate with all stakeholders, including youths, pros and cons of retaining or withdrawing the Article.
Singh said Modi supports debate on Article 370 keeping in mind democratic values. “The Prime Minister had said we want to have a debate. This does not mean that we want to have a debate because certain section of media interpreted that Prime Minister deviated from its stand. It’s not so. He said so with respect to the highest values of democratic system.”
Singh, a doctor by profession, noted that BJP has won half of the six Lok Sabha seats from Jammu & Kashmir. “You see BJP has won half of the seats in Parliament from J&K. While BJP won three seats, PDP bagged the remaining three.
“If you take voter account, we have more that 50 per cent vote share, he said.”
Singh said his party has been inviting all stakeholders to get on board and succeeded to a greater extent in the Valley particularly with the youth. He said people in J&K need to have an outlet. “A mainstream opposition outlet to dissent which we would not stifle because if you stifle that, that will lead them to an undemocratic outlet.
“But within that framework we also want to explain to them how they have been deprived of enormous advantage which the other states of this country have enjoyed because they were not under the constraint of Article 370. Please remember that Article 370 off late has been more of a psychological barrier than a physical barrier,” he said.
Singh, who won from Udhampur constituency in Jammu & Kashmir, said the BJP has already gained considerable success through its discussion with all stakeholders on Article 370.
“We have tried to interact with them (stakeholders) through media, through discussion and through seminars. We have already gained considerable success in this,” the minister said.
Asked whether discussions have been held with Kashmiri youths and separatists, Singh said the process is already on.
“No youth has separatist written on his forehead. We have tried to convince the youths of Kashmir that look here if you have a grievance against the Government of India, that does not necessarily make you a separatist and if it is done then it is unfair to them,” said Singh.
Singh said J&K has come out of a difficult phase of militancy which was there for last 20-25 years and it appears that there is normalcy. “Our efforts will be to support it. The youth section there is demoralized due to unemployment and many other reasons, due to militancy.
“Our efforts would be to ensure sufficient opportunities of employment to them. For example, Narendra Modi has clearly said that he will take forward the initiatives started by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with regard to J&K,” he said.