BJP's prime ministerial candidate questions benefits of special status for region, triggering spat with chief minister.
Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate, has triggered a fresh debate over the special status granted to the province of Jammu and Kashmir.
At a rally on Sunday, Modi asked for a discussion on whether the special status granted to the region has benefited common people.
"For 60 years they talked about separate state (autonomy) but what did people get? Nothing and there is no accountability also... In the name of separate state, they encouraged separatism. It would have been better if they focused on creating a super state," he said.
The Indian-administered region of Kashmir, which has been a flashpoint of dispute between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947, has a special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
Under Article 370, no person from any other state can buy land or property in Jammu and Kashmir. Special status also means the province has its own penal code among others.
One of the core demands of the BJP is for the removal of the special status and bring the state on par with the other states of the Indian union. The BJP has always held that this demand is non-negotiable.
With Modi tempering it a bit by asking for a discussion to see if it has worked, media reports interpret it as a slight shift in the BJP position.
The DNA newspaper quoted Modi as saying: "Some people in the country have invented a herb called secularism to atone their sins. In J&K they have added one more thing to it and that is Article 370… Time has come to discuss whether Article 370 has benefited ordinary people here or not," Modi said.
Reacting to Modi, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah denied that the special status had affected the state's development. In a message on Twitter, Abdullah was quoted by the media as saying, "1.4 million tourists last year & we have crossed 1 million tourists this year in to the valley alone. Mr Modi needs pre-speech fact check."
"The BJP PM candidate is either very badly informed or very economical with the truth. I'm not sure which one is worse though," the reports said, quoting Abdullah on Twitter.