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Modi mates clarify on 370

New Delhi, Dec. 2: Narendra Modi today spoke of the need to make Jammu and Kashmir “a heaven of peace, integrity and diversity”, a day after his assertions on Article 370 had stoked a debate.

The BJP mascot’s colleagues Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley also clarified Modi’s stand on the article that gives the state special status, rejecting interpretations that the Gujarat chief minister had gone “soft” on repealing the provision, an age-old demand of the Sangh.

“It is said about J&K — if there is heaven on earth, it is here,” Modi said in a tweet. “We need to work to make J&K a heaven of peace, integrity and diversity.”

At a rally in Jammu yesterday, Modi had said the time had come to “discuss” whether Article 370 had “benefited” the ordinary people. Sources said the comment had been prompted by the need for a “balancing act”: pander to the BJP’s constituents and yet not sound “radical” on Article 370 in keeping with his new status as his party’s prime ministerial candidate.

Until 2003, the BJP had a big presence in this region before it steadily ceded ground to the Congress, largely because of internal dissidence and the RSS’s power play.

The Sangh had resented the alacrity with which the BJP had dumped the demand to repeal Article 370 from the NDA manifesto to seek alliances with Jammu and Kashmir’s principal parties, the National Conference (NC) and the PDP, and vowed to teach it a lesson.

In 2003, the RSS floated an autonomous outfit that cut into the BJP’s vote share.

But the perception that the Congress could not shrug away the anti-incumbency disadvantages tagged to the Omar Abdullah government, it’s ally, has prompted the BJP to try and regain its depleted base.

But the sources admitted the task was “tough” because some of its heavyweights had crossed over to the Congress and the new crop of leaders was not “inspiring” enough.

Although the NC was part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA, any prospective alliance with either the PDP or Omar’s party would have to come with the rider that the BJP would forsake the plank of rescinding Article 370.

“This is the reason why he shifted the goalpost. Instead of clamouring for a repeal of 370, he couched his language in terms of a debate. He didn’t touch on the Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus from the Valley because that might have given his discourse communal overtones,” a source said.

Both Sushma and Jaitley insisted there was no divergence between Modi’s stand and that of Jana Sangh founder Shyamaprosad Mookerjea, a former Congressman who was the first to speak out against Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

“Modi and Shyamaprosad Mookerjea have not articulated our stand differently. Modi said it is time to debate if 370 has served any purpose. There is nothing to suggest he had softened his stand,” Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma told a media briefing.

In a Facebook post, Jaitley, Sushma’s Rajya Sabha counterpart, said: “The BJP believed that Dr Mookerjee’s vision of complete integration of J&K was the correct vision for India. The journey of separate status has been towards separatism and not towards integration. It would be incorrect to interpret BJP’s challenge for a debate on this issue as a softening of stand on Article 370.”

Modi today iterated the need for a “rational and focused” debate on not just Article 370 but also the “suffering of sections of J&K society”.

To amend, as it were, the deletion of the Kashmiri Pandits in his address he tweeted: “No one can ignore the sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits for so many years.”