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Minister row over Art 370

- Process to repeal J&K special status has started, PMO hand says on Day One
Jitendra Singh

Srinagar, May 27: The lone Union minister from Jammu and Kashmir was today reported as saying the process of repealing Article 370 had begun, triggering controversy on Narendra Modi’s first day in office as Prime Minister.

Media reports quoted debutant MP Jitendra Singh, a surprise choice for junior minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, as saying the article had done more harm than good to the state by giving it a special status.

“The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to all stakeholders,” he was quoted as saying in Delhi, angering both the ruling National Conference and the Opposition People’s Democratic Party here.

Jitendra apparently said that Modi’s intention, when he offered a debate on Article 370 during a Jammu trip last December, was to “convince” the “unconvinced” about its disadvantages. He said the article had erected a “psychological barrier” between the state and the rest of country.

Late tonight, the minister issued a statement saying he had been “misquoted”.

“I have never said anything quoting the honourable Prime Minister. The controversy is totally baseless,” he said. The government too sought to play the controversy down.

“We will take a call.… You saw what we said during the (election) campaign.… The government will take a structured view,” law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

Article 370 allows Jammu and Kashmir a separate flag, constitution and penal code and bars outsiders from buying property or participating in the Assembly polls.

Abrogating it has been one of the BJP’s oldest and most hawkish positions but its 2014 manifesto said the process of scrapping the article would not move without discussions with “all stakeholders”.

Jitendra was quoted as saying that contact programmes would be held with every section of society in the state on the subject.

“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,” chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.

“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 not just ill informed it’s irresponsible.”

People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, who had in recent weeks been praising the BJP-led coalition, urged Modi to rein Jitendra in.

“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.

Awami Ittihaad Party president Sheikh Abdul Rashid said Jitendra’s statement underlined that the BJP was not serious about solving the Kashmir dispute and was trying to assert itself aggressively.

“The reality should now be crystal clear to those who had spun weird dreams out of the Nawaz Sharif-Modi talks and tried to hoodwink the masses by pinning false hopes on these talks,” he said.

Jitendra, a doctor turned politician who defeated Ghulam Nabi Azad from Jammu’s Udhampur parliamentary seat, is just two years old in politics. He joined the BJP in 2012.

He had risen to prominence in 2008 during the pro-Amarnath land agitation in Jammu, when he was appointed spokesperson for the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, which spearheaded the campaign.

There was a counter agitation in the Valley against the allotment of land to the Amarnath shrine board. The protests ran for months and dozens were killed in the Valley in firing by the security forces. The Samiti was accused of enforcing an economic blockade on Kashmir.