June 2000 News

Farooq meets PM, seeks ministerial committee

22 June 2000
Harish Khare

New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, met the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, today and apprised him with the course of the ''autonomy debate'' in the State Assembly. Though there has been no official word on as to what transpired between the two during the one-to-one meeting, it is believed that the Centre had not rejected out of hand the Chief Minister''s suggestion that perhaps a group of Central Ministers could be formed to examine the ''autonomy'' demand. However, later talking to reporters outside the Prime Minister''s residence, the Chief Minister was vocal and assertive in defending the National Conference''s demand for ''autonomy''. At the same time, Dr. Abdullah hinted that the Assembly may not pass a resolution, as of now, even though the Assembly is now to continue its debate till Monday. ''We have asked the Centre to form a ministerial committee to discuss the pros and cons of the resolution besides holding discussion with other State Governments,'' Dr. Abdullah observed. He made out a general case for a more federal structure and pointed out that almost all the States wanted greater say in their affairs, political and financial. The Vajpayee Government, so far, has not opted to take a hostile view of the ''autonomy'' debate. The Chief Minister himself has talked of a ''national debate'', and this has been interpreted as an indication that he does not wish to precipitate things. Unlike the BJP, the Government is not unmindful of Dr. Abdullah''s political compulsions, and does not find his current stance ''worrisome''. As it is, a section of the bureaucracy dealing with Jammu and Kashmir is inclined to believe that the Centre should have no difficulty in agreeing to the Chief Minister''s expectation that a group of ministers could examine the autonomy demand. This section is mindful of the fact that the Centre, especially during the Narasimha Rao regime, did talk of autonomy, and that was one of the reasons that persuaded the National Conference to participate in the Assembly elections in 1996. The ''only'' solution Earlier in the day, Dr. Abdullah asserted that ''autonomy'' was the only solution to the State''s problems, and he was confident that there would no ''disastrous'' outcome of this demand. The Chief Minister was speaking at a function to mark the inauguration of a zonal office of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank here. Perhaps unwittingly, Dr. Abdullah revealed his political strategy when he sought to justify the autonomy demand in terms of the Centre''s newly-declared willingness to talk about the future of Jammu and Kashmir with ''our own people''. His argument was that if the Centre could think in terms of opening a dialogue with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, which had been openly calling for secession, and with other leaders such as Mr. Yasin Malik, who had been asking for ''azadi'' (freedom), why could not his party demand autonomy. He asserted that the demand was not to be at the cost of ''national integration''.


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