MoS Singh Turns 360° on Article 370
Jitendra Singh, Narendra Modi’s powerful deputy in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) stirred up a hornet’s nest on his first day in office, saying that the new BJP-led government had started discussions for revoking Article 370 that provides special status to Jammu & Kashmir and stressed that the party had the mandate to do so even from the state. “We have won half the seats from J&K…we have more than 50 per cent of vote share. Can the media interpret that 50 per cent of people in the state wanted abrogation of Article 370 and agree with the BJP’s policies?” Singh said on Tuesday, within minutes of taking over as the minister of state in the PMO as well as the ministry of personnel. Following a media uproar, Singh later in the evening said, “I seek to clarify that the reports in the media about my statement on Article 370 are misquoted. I have never said anything quoting the Honourable Prime Minister. The controversy is totally baseless.” Singh, 57, a doctor who hails from Jammu, said the set of initiatives for J&K launched by the erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee government that was left incomplete after the BJP went out of power “will be completed now.” Singh has got a set of heavyweight portfolios including that of minister of state for atomic energy, space and independent charge of science and technology and earth sciences, after he defeated cabinet minister Ghulam Nabi Azad from Udhampur. His party manifesto for 2014 polls has said: “BJP reiterates its stand on Article 370 and will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to abrogation of this Article.
In a clarification issued later in the evening, Singh said, “I seek to clarify that the reports in the media about my statement on Article 370 are misquoted. I have never said anything quoting the Honourable Prime Minister. The controversy is totally baseless.” Earlier, Singh had said that the “stakeholders” were already being consulted and more consultations would not take place, including with the groups in the Kashmir Valley. However, Singh did not commit to whether the government would also speak to the separatist groups. “Article 370 is not in the interest of people of J&K. They have been deprived of an enormous advantage. Article 370 has become a psychological barrier rather than a physical one,” Singh added. Singh’s remarks attracted the ire of J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. “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. Long after Modi government is a distant memory either J&K won’t be part of India or Article 370 will still exist. Article 370 is the only constitutional link between J&K and rest of India. Talk of revocation of (sic) not just ill informed it’s irresponsible,” Abdullah wrote on Twitter. Singh also said that the BJP would restart the initiatives that were left incomplete after the Vajpayee government went out of power in 2004. “J&K has some normalcy now…we will solidify it...We will try to convince the youth of J&K that your grievances against the government do not mean you are against the Government of India,” Singh said. The minister added that the government would also focus on rehabilitation of all kinds of migrants in J&K. “Kashmiri Pandits should feel there is security in the Valley so that they can return on their own there,” Singh said.
JITENDRA SINGH, MoS, PMO