War of words on J&K special status escalates

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MHA readies presentation on law, Rajnath takes over today

The row over Article 370 escalated on Wednesday with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, National Conference (NC) Omar Abdullah making it clear that it cannot be abrogated unless the state's constituent assembly is recalled and the RSS in turn asking him whether he thought the state was his "parental estate".

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, asked the Narendra Modi government to come clean on who were the `stakeholders’ it was talking about on the issue of revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution that guarantees special category status for the state.

Abdullah told reporters that they ``will oppose the move tooth and nail. Since it is the minister of state PMO talking, it is a policy matter. They (central government) must come clean and share who are the stakeholders they have talked to.” The chief minister reiterated that the move to re-open the issue of Article 370 would amount to re-opening the issue of the state’s accession with the Indian union.

Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the PMO, had on Tuesday minutes after taking charge, stirred up a hornet's nest by saying that a process of holding debates with various stakeholders was on to apprise them about benefits and disadvantages of Article 370 in the state.

Later, he, however, later sought to clarify that he has only been misquoted in the media. "I've never said anything quoting the honourable prime minister. The controversy is totally baseless,” he said in a signed statement.

There are indications that the controversy may snowball further as the Union home ministry is preparing a presentation for incoming home minister Rajnath Singh detailing provisions of the article, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Top ministry sources said a view will be firmed up on the need for a full-fledged discussion on the issue with all stakeholders after proper consultation and briefing from the Kashmir division.

Chief minister Abdullah later turned to micro-blogging site twitter to say the BJP government cannot abrogate Article 370 till the constituent assembly is recalled. “The constituent assembly approved accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. If you want to raise the question once again, then you need to bring the constituent assembly and then we will talk,” Omar told reporters, while defending the constitutional provision. NC ally Congress too supported the chief minister. Party leader Manish Tewari said, "There should be a basic understanding of the Constitution before any statement is made on such a sensitive issue,’’ he said, adding “a bare read of the constitutional provisions makes it clear that it is not possible even if there is a desire to repeal Article 370.’’

In Srinagar, J&K Congress chief Saifuddin Soz said that those ``who seek a debate on Article 370 are making a basic mistake of not appreciating the fact that this article is an integral part of the Constitution of India and it can neither be amended nor abrogated by any authority in India, unless the people of Jammu and Kashmir themselves want it.’’

Soz added that Article 370 is the only mechanism through which central laws get extended to the J&K, as and when the state wants. This article has also been devised as a bridge between the state and the Union of India."

Mehbooba Mufti, president of J&K's main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said Singh's comments have the potential to divide the state on communal lines. “We condemn the statement by Singh. It has the potential to divide the state,” she said and expressed hope that PM Narendra Modi will intervene in the matter.

Meanwhile, reacting to Omar's remarks that either J and K won't be part of India or Article 370 that grants special status to the state will still exist, senior RSS leader Ram Madhav said the state will always be an integral part of India with or without the provision. He also asked whether the chief minister thought the state was his `parental estate’ and said no one should take any offence to any "open-ended debate".

Meanwhile, constitutional experts have warned against tampering with this complex constitutional arrangement. Senior lawyer Rajeev Dhawan said that the article has a special significance in centre-state relations. "Article 371 (A to J) represents India’s asymmetrical federalism. The state of J&K acceded to India under special circumstances. But J&K is a part of India subject to certain limitations." He said special provisions also apply to Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states. "This compulsion to remove Article 370 shows legal illiteracy. To remove this article will be a gross breach of faith towards the people of the state. It will also be politically explosive for the sub-continent."

Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap too suggested that this was not the right time to raise the question of Article 370. "This special provision of the law is the governing relationship between the centre and the state. There are many provisions which accord special status to Uttarakhand, Nagaland and other states. Any changes in these provisions can be made only after consultations with the people of the respective states."

Former vice chancellor of Jammu University, Amitabh Mattoo, too has maintained that Article 370 can be revoked only if a new constituent assembly of J&K was convened and was willing to recommend its revocation.


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