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New row over Indian Kashmir's special status

State's chief minister says many high officials are ignorant of the need for Article 370 of Indian Constitution.

Last updated: 06 Dec 2013 09:42
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Violence in Indian Kashmir has dipped in recent years, resulting in resumption of normal civilian activity [AP]

The issue of special status for Indian-administered Kashmir has turned into a major controversy anew, with Omar Abdullah, the state's chief minister, accepting a challenge from Narendra Modi, the BJP prime ministerial aspirant, to a public debate.

During a recent rally in Jammu, Modi said the special status, under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, needed to be reviewed after examining whether it had done any good to the people of the state.

Among the core aims of the BJP is the explicit demand that special status to Jammu and Kashmir be deleted and it be brought at par with other Indian states.

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Now with the BJP doing well at the polls and expected to mount a strong challenge to the ruling Congress in next year's elections to the lower house of the Indian parliament, it has decided to revive the issue, seen as crucial to its ideological moorings.

The issue has remained dormant at least for over a decade when the BJP was forced to push it to the back-burner during government formation at the head of a coalition in 1998.

This has prompted a row, with politicians in Kashmir cautioning against any move to abrogate the special status. Taking Modi's call for a public debate seriously, Abdullah asked him to select a date, time and venue.

Reports quoting Omar said he criticised the manner in which the issue was being raised.

"Many people in India who have held and are holding high offices are equally ignorant about the essentiality of Article 370," the reports quoted him saying.

"They connect domicile rights of the people of the state, land grant issues and other similar matters to Article 370. It has nothing to do with these matters," the reports quoting Abdullah said.

Crisis feared

Mehbooba Mufti, a Kashmir opposition politician, was reported to have said cancellation of the special status would adversely affect relations with New Delhi and had the potential of creating a constitutional crisis.

Separatist Kashmiri leaders were, however, reportedly unmoved by the debate as, according to them, it was centred within Indian constitutionality while they were seeking a resolution outside it.

Under the special status, Kashmir is the only state in the Indian union with its own constitution, flag and penal code.

People from other states are barred from buying property in Kashmir and they cannot be permanent residents of the state.

The special status was accorded to Kashmir during the tumultuous period following partition and independence in 1947.

Kashmir has also been the centre of dispute between India and Pakistan with both laying claim to the whole of it.

Of the three wars between the nuclear-powered neighbours, two have been over Kashmir.

Since 1989, separatist violence has intensified with several thousands killed. In recent years, violence has dipped, resulting in resumption of normal civilian activity in the region.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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