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Are differences on Article 370, AFSPA delaying BJP-PDP pact?

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While the PDP and BJP’s ‘informal negotiations’ for government formation in Jammu and Kashmir are progressing smoothly, the two sides are still dragging their feet on contentious issues like Article 370 and the AFSPA.

Insiders in both parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — in Jammu and Srinagar maintain that the two sides have agreed on a full six-year term as chief minister for PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

“The BJP will have the deputy chief minister and a major share in portfolios to ensure equitable development of all the three regions of the state.

“We feel to forge a development-oriented ruling alliance with the PDP in the country’s only Muslim majority state would do good to the image of the BJP nationally and internationally,” a senior BJP leader said in Jammu.

The leader, requesting anonymity, said at the same time the party would not make any compromises on its “basic principles”.

The BJP’s stand on contentious issues like Article 370, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the settlement of west Pakistan refugees in Jammu and Kashmir has been diagonally opposed to that of the PDP.

The PDP seeks firm assurances on protection of Article 370, the BJP stands for a national debate on whether this temporary provision of the Indian constitution, granting special status to J&K, should stay or go.

According to the PDP, the west Pakistan refugees are not permanent residents of the state, as it existed before the accession of J&K to India in 1947.

Therefore, the PDP says there is no constitutional or legal justification in granting these refugees the same rights like other citizens.

Incidentally, these refugees who came here after the India-Pakistan wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971 do not have the right to buy property or vote in the state assembly elections, though they can vote in the parliamentary elections.

While the BJP maintains that the AFSPA can only be revoked after the security forces recommend it, the PDP wants its gradual withdrawal to be determined by the state government and not the security forces.

PDP’s chief spokesman Naeem Akhtar, who spoke on these issues to to media in Jammu, said, “Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has been in politics for too long to blink on basics.

“He wants clarity on issues like Article 370 and AFSPA and that clarity has to be in conformity with the commitments we have made to the people when we sought their vote.

“For the development of all the three regions of the state and also for the new government to deliver on political, developmental and administrative fronts, clarity on basic issues is vital.

“Mufti Sahib cannot become chief minister because you assure him a full six-year term. The chief minister has to be able to deliver and face his people and for that he needs clarity on issues.”

Akhtar dismissed reports that an agreement on an alliance is likely to be announced within the next two to three days.

“We have to agree on a CMP (common minimum programme) in a transparent, structured dialogue. The CMP would be made public before the PDP and the BJP stake claim to form the government.

“Interestingly, more than the PDP and the BJP, it is the National Conference that seems to be ‘worried’ about how soon we stake claim on government formation.

“Doesn’t this prove that had the ball been in the NC’s court they would have played it even without caring where it would land the people of the state?” Akhtar said.

In brief, the PDP and the BJP are still taxing their brains on how to meet each other half way on article 370 and AFSPA.

Could the impasse on these basic issue become a stalemate that would deny Jammu and Kashmir an elected government even after the massive participation of the people in the election held in Nov-Dec last year?

Top PDP and BJP leaders believe the hurdle is high, but they are optimistic about crossing it.

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