June 2000 News

Farooq''s flock goes astray over autonomy

24 June 2000
Times of India

Srinagar: They volleyed and thundered unmindful of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah''s pleas not to get carried away. Judging by the tone and tenor of the ministerial speeches made in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on Saturday, Farooq has little option but to put the controversial autonomy committee report to vote. Farooq''s wayward flock of ministers and MLAs attacked the Centre and the Indian security forces. The chief minister tried to be the voice of reason. There was an unfortunate impression, especially among the younger men in uniform, that all Muslims were Pakistanis, he said. ''However, let''s be thankful that we are here in this country. We can say what we want even if there is no one to listen to us. This is democracy.'' To those watching the fireworks, it seemed as if one of two things was happening. Either Farooq and his legislators were deliberately playing good cop, bad cop. Or the chief minister was genuinely not in control. The former role would allow Farooq to claim that try as he might, he could not reason with his legislators. The latter would mean he is, in fact, helpless. Both logically lead to the same outcome: adoption of the report by the House. Indeed, if after all this, Farooq falls short of demonstrably proving his commitment to autonomy, he will suffer a loss of face that should spell disaster for his party. And the Bharatiya Janata Party does not really need to worry. After all, without the Centre''s consent, Farooq cannot act on the report. Even to make Article 370 a permanent feature, a constitutional amendment is required, which will not be so easy. Besides, there is also the problem with Ladakh and Jammu, where the people are holding hartals against the autonomy move. Both regions would like to be part of the mainland, and indeed, Ladakh wants to be administered directly by Delhi. The fear of the two regions is that in an autonomous Jammu and Kashmir, their voices will not be heard. At one point during Saturday''s debate, Farooq had to tell his own brother, state housing minister Mustafa Kamal, to argue with facts rather than emotion. Mustafa Kamal accused the Vajpayee government of wanting to balkanise the state, and said: ''You say no to autonomy and in the same breath talk of trifurcating the state (a reference to recent reports about the trifurcation solution offered by the Hurriyat). Forgive us, but we cannot trust you. We will not believe you, till you give us autonomy.'' Mustafa Kamal also charged the security forces with committing excesses on NC activists and ordinary people. ''The security forces have become agents of the government. They (Centre) should stop the forces from becoming enemies of the people.'' The chief minister''s younger sibling, then, warned the BJP government against sabotaging the report. ''If you do it, you''ll suffer.'' At this Farooq got up and said Mustafa must ask himself if some among the betrayers were not Kashmiris. He also argued that there was no point in blaming the Central forces when the state-run Task Force was itself guilty of harassing innocent civilians. He said, when he came across a recent case of harassment, he summoned the policeman and personally had his belt and cap removed. ''I dismissed him,'' he said.


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