January 2000 News

J&K accepts autonomy committee report

20 January 2000
The Hindu
Shujaat Bukhari

SRINAGAR: Feeling politically sidelined, the Farooq Abdullah Government on Wednesday formally accepted the report of the State Autonomy Committee (SAC) tabled in the Assembly last year. It will be ratified by the Assembly in the coming session.

A decision to this effect was taken at a Cabinet meeting in Jammu with the Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah, in the chair.

Highly-placed official sources said the Centre had agreed to constitute a committee which would discuss the autonomy issue with the State Government to address the demand of ruling National Conference (NC) which fought four elections on this plank.

A senior Minister confirmed to The Hindu, that the Vajpayee Government had given the green signal and this prompted the State to accept the report.

To ensure that the high-level discussions take place, Dr. Abdullah has reconstituted the ministerial sub-committee with the Housing Minister, Mr. Mohiuddin Shah, as its chairman. Mr. shah earlier headed the SAC which submitted its report to the Government.

The Finance Minister, Mr. Abdur Rahim Rather, the Law Minister, Mr. P. L. Handoo, the Education Minister, Mr. Mohammad Shafi and the Tourism Minister, Mr Surjit Singh Salathal, are the committee members. The Assembly Speaker, Mr. Abdul Ahad Vakil, who was also an SAC member as the Revenue Minister ceases to be a member of sub-committee.

Though the Vajpayee Government "in principle" has been against granting autonomy to the State, being in the forefront of the demand for the abrogation of Article 370, the accepting of the report at this juncture is seen as significant.

Reports in a section or press suggested that Dr. Abdullah was not happy with certain decisions of the Centre to deal with militancy, but a senior Minister insisted that the Vajpayee government was ready for discussions on this.

However, observes believe that the Farooq Abdullah regime feels politically sidelined as the militants have renewed their activities and this has pushed to the wall not only the mainstream political parties but has relegated to the background even the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC).

With the NC becoming the direct target of militants, its cadre are confined to the protected zones in Srinagar or Jammu. The stalwarts of the NC are worried over the situation. "After a long spell of destruction and paying a heavy price, the party had managed to make a comeback on the political scene in 1986, but it seems that things are getting out of hand," conceded a senior NC functionary.

Dr. Abdullah has again resorted to the autonomy issue which had been discussed as one of the solutions to the Kashmir problem. But the Centre's indifferent attitude and many other factors force it to the background.

The Centre's reported contact with the Hurriyat is also an irritation for Dr. Abdullah. But, the Hurriyat has denied this.

The autonomy issue has been facing rough weather from the day it was taken up by the NC. The NC had failed to prevail upon the Narsimha Rao Government on the issue and when the party pressed ahead with demand 1996, it was left with no option but stay away from the Lok Sabha elections. However, after assurances from United Front Government it contested the Assembly elections and bounced back to power with brute majority.

Soon, a committee was constituted with Dr. Karan Singh as its chairman. He resigned after a brief "honeymoon" with the NC. He was replaced by Mr. Mohiuddin Shah and the committee recommended sweeping changes in the Constitution based on the 1952 Delhi agreement between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.


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