No autonomy talk on first day of J&K Assembly session
19 June 2000
Srinagar: The first day of a special Assembly session called to discuss greater autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir failed to signal which way the debate would turn. The Assembly was adjourned until Tuesday after obituary references to State Power Minister Ghulam Hassan Bhat, who was killed in a landmine blast in the troubled State, and senior Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, who died in a road accident. ''Wait till tomorrow,'' said Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, declining to reveal to journalists the stand his ruling National Conference (NC) would take in the autonomy debate. Housing and Urban Development Minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah, who as chairman of the State Autonomy Committee (SAC) had submitted a report in April last year, would also only say, ''See what happens tomorrow.'' But that hasn''t stopped intense speculation here about the possible outcome of the debate. Some NC legislators are determined to push the resolution through, while the others are waiting for the nod from Abdullah, who is playing his cards close to the chest. Mohammad Shafi Bhat, a vociferous NC legislator representing the Amira Kadal constituency, told India Abroad News Service: ''We will take it (autonomy) to a logical conclusion.'' He did not elaborate. The opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is committed to abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that grants special status to J&K, is working out its strategy to counter the NC''s demand for greater autonomy to the state. It feels the ruling party is taking things too far. ''Even if it (NC) passes the resolution, we will reject it,'' said Ashok Khajuria, senior BJP leader from Jammu, implying that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would not accept the resolution even if it were passed by the state legislature as the approval of the national Parliament and the president are mandatory for it to become law. The NC, in its SAC report, has called for restoration of the pre-1953 status to the state. That means bringing back the titles of Sadar-e-Riyasat (Head of State) for the governor and Wazir-e-Azam (head of government) for the chief minister and giving greater control to the state, with the Centre only exercising control over defence, communications and external affairs. Despite the constitutional hitches in passing a resolution on autonomy, the current state Assembly session has evoked considerable interest since the debate could take an unpredictable course, say analysts.