Hours after BJP-led NDA government took over the reins of the Union government in New Delhi, junior minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Jitendra Singh sparked a controversy on the vexed issue of special status to Jammu and Kashmir by saying that it has done "more harm than good".
"Article 370 has done more harm than good. The youth of Kashmir has to be convinced about this. That's why the honourable PM has called for a debate. Having a debate doesn't mean we have deviated from what we promised. It just means convincing those who are not convinced," Jitendra Singh said while taking charge at his new office in the PMO.
Article 370 grants special status to Jammu & Kashmir residents to live under different laws compared to other Indian residents. It specifies that except for defence, foreign affairs, communications and anciliary matters (matters specified in the instrument of accession), the Indian Parliament needs the state government's concurrence for applying all other laws. As such, laws related to ownership of property, citizenship and fundamental rights are different in the state. J&K is the only state which has a separate constitution, flag and penal code.
In its election manifesto, BJP had said that it was opposed to a special status for Jammu and Kashmir. Incidentally, Singh is the party's J&K spokesperson, and defeated former Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad from Udhampur Parliamentary constituency.
"The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to the stakeholders," Singh said. "The BJP has won more than half of the seats from Jammu and Kashmir. So we will interpret this as an endorsement of the BJP's stand. Article 370 is more like a psychological barrier."
Singh's words drew ire in the northern state. Cutting across party lines, ruling National Conference and main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) slammed Singh for making "irresponsible remarks".
"So the new MOS PMO says process/discussions to revoke Article 370 have started. Wow, that was a quick beginning. Not sure who is talking", tweeted state chief minister Omar Abdullah. "Mark my words & save this tweet - long after Modi government is a distant memory, either J&K won't be part of India or Art 370 will still exist…. Article 370 is the ONLY constitutional link between J&K & rest of India. Talk of revocation of not just ill informed it's irresponsible".
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP leadership to rein in the newly appointed minister before his utterances caused serious damage. "The irresponsible utterances on Article 370 should stop immediately as these can have serious repercussions in J&K besides having the potential of spoiling the atmosphere of inclusiveness and peace", she said.