|Prof Hari Om|
On December 1, 2013, the then BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modiaddressed "Lalkar Rally" at Maulana Azad Stadium, Jammu. It was a massive affair. No less than one lakh people participated in what was termed as the biggest-ever rally held in Jammu by any political party. Addressing the rally, Narendra Modi, inter-alia, criticized Article 370 of the Constitution under which the solitary State of Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status within the Indian Union. At the same time, he didn't demand the abrogation of Article 370. He only said that there had to be a discussion on Article 370 and suggested that it should be retained if it had benefited the people and the state and it should be removed if it had harmed the state and its people.
It would be only politically prudent to quote verbatim what Narendra Modi said about Article 370. Such an approach would help put things in perspective.
Narendra Modi said: "Friends, whether Article 370 remains in practice under the Constitution or not in the political scenario, the discussion on it has always been there and will always be in the air. But now it is the need-of-the-hour that in context of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, in context of their benefits, their rights, at least in Jammu & Kashmir and in the entire nation, it must be discussed whether Article 370 has been beneficial for the common man here? No one is ready to discuss it..! Just a few days back, at the time of elections, Dr. Manmohan Singh Ji was saying that BJP leaders just take big names, which serve no purpose; they should bring to reality what they have said. I agree to Mr. Prime Minister and accept it, but would like to remind him that the then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said regarding Article 370 in the Parliament that this Article will fade away with time..! Mr. Prime Minister, you yourself are saying that the great men should do what they say. Is your government ready to do what Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said..? Then, what do you preach others..?"
He also said: "Friends, Article 370 has become a shield and is being used as one. It has been armored with communal jewels and just because of this, a valid discussion on it is not happening. I want the experts of the Constitution to discuss it. Just see the laws based on which the Delhi government is asking for votes in the four states, saying that we made this law and that law, etc…! Are the laws that the government is flaunting, being implemented in Jammu & Kashmir? Rajnath Singh Ji just said that Article 370 & 374 were amended at the time of Rajiv Gandhi, but the Congress party still keeps boasting about it. Congress party should at least answer that the things that you have done, why can't you get them implemented in Jammu & Kashmir..? Friends, you tell me, shouldn't the Panchayats be empowered..? The people who want to fight for the ownership of their bungalows and offices, for them ownership is a major concern, but they do not want to give any powers to the municipalities or to the villages. Neither do they want to give them their rights nor the opportunities to progress! Friends, till when these double standards last..! Shouldn't the common man of Jammu & Kashmir get the rights that all other citizens of India enjoy? The special privileges that SC, ST, OBC, Dalits, and tribals get, the rights that the socially and educationally backward population receives in the form of education, jobs, and representation in elections, shouldn't all these rights be given to the people of Jammu & Kashmir? After all, why are they being prevented from getting these rights?"
The remarks of Narendra Modi on Article 370 giving special status to the solitary State of Jammu & Kashmir (on the score of religion) sparked off an acrimonious debate with Kashmiri leaders, including the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, making a huge hue and cry and mountains out of moll-hills. It was senior BJP leader and present Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who the very next day (December 2) not only defended Narendra Modi's remarks on Article 370 in writing but also denounced Kashmiri parties, particularly the then ruling National Conference and the Congress.
Tearing into the critics of Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley said: "The Nehruvian vision of a separate status (under Article 370) has given rise to aspirations for the pre-1953 status, self-rule, and even Azadi. The desire of proponents of these three ideas has weakenedthe constitutional and political relationship between Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of the country. The journey of separate status has been towards separatism and not towards integration. It would be incorrect for anyone to interpret BJP's challenge for a debate on this issue as a softening of stand on Article 370".
What Narendra Modi said on December 1 and Arun Jaitley on December 2 clearly suggested that Article 370 had harmed Jammu & Kashmir State and its people and also created a wall of hatred between Kashmir (now over 99 percent Muslim) and the rest of the country. However, it was Arun Jaitley who put things in perspective when he said without mincing words that "the Nehruvian vision of a separate status (for Jammu & Kashmir under Article 370) has given rise to aspirations for the pre-1953 status, self-rule, and even Azadi".
The remarks of Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley naturally gave the people of the state and the rest of the country to understand that the BJP as a party was opposed to Article 370 and if, it came into power, will remove it. The BJP did come into power and Narendra Modi did become Prime Minister on May 26, 2014, with a massive mandate (282 seats plus 44 seats of the allies). Sadly, however, it neither initiated a debate on Article 370 nor did it abrogate it. What happened was to the contrary and much to the chagrin of the BJP's core constituency. It stitched an alliance with the pro-Pakistan and pro-self-rule People's Democratic Party (PDP) and became its junior partner on March 1, 2015, by compromising its age-old stand on Article 370. So much so, it gave in writing that it would not touch Article 370. Ever since then, the BJP has been hardly speaking about Article 370 and this has hurt its core constituency across the nation in general and Jammu and Ladakh in particular. It is hoped that the BJP would review its current stand on Article 370 and do what it said on December 1 and 2, 2013. Article 370 has to go if Jammu & Kashmir is to remain part of India and the minority Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains are to be protected against exclusion by the Muslim majority in the state.