Rijiju Sidesteps 370 Row

11 March 2015
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Nishit Dholabhai

New Delhi: Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju today avoided controversy while answering a question on Article 370, refusing to hand the Opposition a potential opportunity to corner the government on Kashmir. Rijiju told a BJP MP questioning the 'benefit' of Article 370 to the people of the state that the constitutional provision should not be seen in terms of 'benefit or loss'. Shiv Sena's Anil Desai had raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha, asking if Article 370 conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir. Rijiju responded: 'In the Constitution of India, there is no mention of 'special status to Jammu and Kashmir'. Article 370 provides for 'temporary provisions with respect to the state of Jammu and Kashmir'.' The minister seemed to have learnt from the experience of a colleague. Soon after the government took over last year, Jitendra Singh was asked about Article 370 on the day he took charge as minister of state for PMO. Singh had triggered a controversy by saying the process of repealing the article had started. Today, Rijiju was far more guarded but also said the BJP's stand was already well-known. Desai asked whether conferring special status meant there was discrimination against other states and whether the government wanted to scrap 'the special status'. Rijiju responded that there were special provisions in the Constitution for many states, not Jammu and Kashmir alone. As Desai pressed for more clarity through a supplementary question, Rijiju said Article 370 was a transitional arrangement and was 'neither static nor permanent'. He said he would not be able to explain further. When Avinash Rai Khanna of the BJP asked how the constitutional provision benefited people of the state, Rijiju responded: 'This cannot be an issue of benefit or loss, it is a sensitive issue.' The junior home minister appeared to taking care to avoid handing another issue for the Opposition to attack the government on. The Centre is under attack for the recent release of Hurriyat hardliner Masarat Alam Bhat by the state government of which the BJP is a part. Senior Congress MP Karan Singh, the son of Maharaja Hari Singh, was seen nodding as Rijiju spoke. He said that Article 370 was introduced a few years after his father signed the Instrument of Accession. The provision had immense legal and political implications and sought an assurance that the government would deal with it with extreme caution. Rijiju said 'it is an honour' to have Singh in Parliament. He said that while the issue can be debated, the government would take any step taking into account the historical perspective and with extreme care. Nominated member K.T.S. Tulsi subtly provoked by saying Article 370 is a lynchpin between Jammu and Kashmir and India. Rijiju responded that there was no debate that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India. He added that the BJP's views were already known and would not say anything more.