Farooq tries to Clear the air on Autonomy
26 February 2000
Times of India
Jammu: Chief minister Farooq Abdullah said on Saturday that no hatred should be spread while criticising the National Conference government''s move on autonomy as its aim was neither to drive a wedge between the Jammu and Kashmir regions, nor to weaken the bond between the state and the Centre. Replying to a three-day debate on a motion of thanks to the governor''s address, during which the issue of autonomy was passionately advocated by NC members and equally passionately opposed by several opposition members particularly from the BJP, Farooq said the state autonomy committee report submitted to the Centre for examination was open to debate clause for clause and his government. He said the aspirations of the people could not be ignored as the state, with its three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, was a ''little Hindustan''. He added: ''No communal interpretation should be given to the autonomy move, as it is not for Muslims alone, nor does it have separatist intentions.'' He asserted: ''NC partymen have repeatedly been giving proof of their nationalism with their blood.'' Farooq said had he wanted it, he could have got the state autonomy report approved by the assembly with the two-thirds majority his party has, but, instead, he had taken the path of discourse. He said: ''There has even been talk that I had talks in the US and was probably conspiring with that country. My expectations are from Delhi and not from Washington - Clinton will be looking only at his country''s relations with India.'' Abdullah said if Clinton could do it, he should try to improve relations between India and Pakistan (without any intrusive posture). He said that despite Kargil and the skewing of the Lahore process by Pakistan, there was no alternative to friendship with that country. To this end, he quoted Prime Minister Vajpayee remarking during his visit to the Tangdhar border belt in the Valley: ''One can change one''s friend, but not one''s neighbour.'' Referring to the separatists, he said they had also been told that matters could be settled through talks and not through guns. He had even offered to step down if ''the supporters of Pakistan and of azadi'' agreed to test their popularity in an election, but they had remained intransigent. On the regional autonomy committee report, recommending creation of eight distinct regions within the state to facilitate local economic development and sub-regional autonomy to alleviate any sense of discrimination ''even in the remotest pockets'', the CM said that it would be passed by the assembly as it did not involve constitutional relationship with the Centre. ''The report, however, is preliminary and open to debate and suggestions, which would be accommodated so that the bond between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh can be maintained,'' Farooq said. The CM opposed the demand of a ''homeland'' within the Valley raised by a section of displaced Kashmiri Pandits and said: ''Pakistan is the result of one demand for homeland: Will a new homeland strengthen our national bond?''