New Delhi, May 27 IBNS | 6 months ago

Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Jitendra Singh on Tuesday sparked a flutter after he said the new Indian government was in the process of repealing Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

The revocation of the act, which grants special powers of autonomy to the state assembly, has been one of the long standing campaign promises of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which sailed into power with a national election win this month.

Article 370 mandates that except for Defence, Foreign Affairs, Communications and ancillary matters the Indian Parliament needs the State Government's concurrence for applying all other laws.

The law therefore specifies that the state's residents live under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to other Indians.

Besides Jammu and Kashmir, similar protections exist in tribal areas of India including those in Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Nagaland.

Speaking to reporters on his first day after taking office, MoS Jitendra Singh said "The process of repealing Article 370 has started. We are speaking to the stakeholders."

"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 said.

However, the statement ran into blunt opposition from the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) that rules the state but suffered a sweeping defeat in the national polls.

Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister and NC leader Omar Abdullah 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 (sic)."

"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 (sic)," he added.

Abdullah went on to say: "Art 370 is the ONLY constitutional link between J&K & rest of India. Talk of revocation of not just ill informed it's irresponsible (sic)."

Jitendra Singh however held firm to his stand even though in subsequent interviews he phrased the government's position as being "open to debate" the law.

"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," Singh said.

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, the advantages and disadvantages of the law.

(Posted on 27-05-2014)

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