February 2000 News

Give J-K autonomy or independence, says J-K Minister

1 February 2000
Indian Express

SRINAGAR: The National Conference has done it again. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's trusted lieutenant has thrown down the gauntlet before the state BJP, which fuming at his ultimatum of autonomy or independence of the state.

The ruckus kicked up after Farooq's son and Union Minister of State for Industries Omar Abdullah went up against BJP strongman and Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Chaman Lal Gupta had barely subsided before this feud started.

In the eye of storm this time round is Works Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar.

He has, in unequivocal terms, threatened New Delhi of either giving the state autonomy which the NC government is asking for or the azadi(independence) the separatists are fighting for. The choices before the Union Government, Sagar has declared, are limited to that alone.

In issuing this ultimatum, Sagar has gone beyond what his mentor Farooq has already said several times over. In a recent interview, Farooq had said that if the state had to remain part of India, it had to be given autonomy. Even his son Omar had taken up cudgels with Chaman Lal Gupta on the same issue.

Gupta had, in his first reception in Jammu after being inducted into Union Ministry, declared that the Centre had rejected the idea of autonomy to J&K Omar had taken on Gupta and challenged him to step up down from his post if he was not in favour of granting pre-1953 status to the state.

The BJP, which has all along been pressing for complete integration of J&K into the Indian federation, is naturally fretting and fuming.

State BJP president D. K. Kotwal could hardly contain his anger, and retorted, "If anyone wants azadi, he should cross over to Pakistan; join the ranks of so-called jehadis and then come to our soil and fight for freedom. We will teach him the lesson we keep teaching the other jehadis."

Calling Sagar's statement highly improper, he demanded that such a person has no business remaining a Minister. "He fought the eleciton under the (provisions of the) Indian Constitution, he should first quit as legislator and Minister," Kotwal argued.

BJP legislators equally angry. Most of them have called Sagar "Rashtradrohi" (traitor) and supported Kotwal in his demand or Sagar's immediate dethroning as minister. Yeh to Rashtradrohi ke baat hai. Kitno ka record hai ke woh militant organisation ke saath thhey" (This is treason. There are many leaders who are known supporters of militant organisations.)," thunders BJP MLA Ashok Kumar Khajuria.

BJP leaders have already met their national leaders in New Delhi and strongly opposed the NC's autonomy demand.

In a surprise move, Farooq's cabinet, immediately after his meeting with Prime Minister, Home Minister and others in New Delhi, had okayed the state autonomy report which had been submitted to the state government early last year.

Orignally the ruling party had decided to put the autonomy report up for public debate and serious deliberations by academicians and intellectuals for the right inputs. But Farooq circumvented the original schedule and hurried through its adoption by his cabinet.

According to some political observers, Farooq is trying to arms twist the Centre by raising the most potential and most contentious issue once again, as he is under pressure for failure of his Government on almost all the fronts.

Kotwal echoes: "Sheikh Abdullah had done the same and had to spend long years in prison. Farooq now needs the same treatment."

Talking to The Indian Express, however, Sagar said they were committed to achieving autonomy and will keep fighting for the same. "The present Government in Delhi is not entire Hindustan. There are whole lot of leaders like I. K. Gujral, Deve Gowda, etc. have been in favour of autonomy and it will be achieved ultimately."

Calling BJP leaders' statement immaterail, he said in the final reckoning these leaders do not matter.


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