July 2000 News

Cabinet rejects Kashmir autonomy demand

4 July 2000
The Indian Express

New Delhi: The Union Cabinet on Tuesday “unanimously” rejected the autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly last month, saying its acceptance would set the clock back to the pre-1953 status for the state. The Cabinet’s decision has ensured that the resolution will not reach Parliament, even though a defiant National Conference said it would continue pressing for autonomy, “come what may.” Chief minister Farooq Abdullah had a one-to-one meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee shortly before the Cabinet met. He is understood to have been told by the Prime Minister that the resolution would be rejected. In his reaction, Dr Abdullah said the Cabinet decision was “unfortunate” and taken in haste without proper study of the proposals. But he said the demand for autonomy had nothing to do with his being in the National Democratic Alliance, so he would stay with it. “The Cabinet feels that the acceptance of this resolution would set the clock back and reverse the natural process of harmonising the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the integrity of the nation,” the Cabinet said in a written reponse to the autonomy resolution after the hurriedly-called meeting, which last for about two hours at the Prime Minister’s residence. “Most of the recommendations contained in the report of the State Autonomy Committee seek to reverse the application of constitutional provisions to the state of Jammu and Kashmir which may not adversely affect the interests of the people of the state but also tantamount to removal of some of the essential safeguards enshrined in our Constitution,” the Cabinet said. The decision of the Cabinet was first announced by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan. Later, copies of its response were released to the media at a press conference by home minister L.K. Advani, who said if the Cabinet had accepted the resolution, it would have certainly set in motion trends which were not conducive to national interests. “While we are in favour of greater devolution of powers to the states, we will not do anything to weaken national unity,” he said. When asked about Dr Abdullah’s statement that he will continue to raise the autonomy issue even if it was rejected by Parliament, Mr Advani said: “It is the legitimate right of any party to pursue its point of view.” To a question about the government’s preparedness for holding talks the Hurriyat, he said there had been no formal talks so far but the government was willing to talk to “anyone within the country.” He ruled out any talks with Pakistan till it stopped encouraging cross-border terrorism. Denying that Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had also demanded autonomy on the lines of the National Conference, Mr Advani said BJP-led government was committed to evolving a broad consensus on the implementation of steps for wide-ranging devolution of powers to the states that would lead to efficiency in administration, acceleration in development and the fullest realisation of creative potential in all sections of the people. The setting up of a commission to review the Constitution, he said, was also a step in that direction. The Cabinet response also said that there was a clear case for devolution of more financial and administrative powers and functions to the states. It said the issue of restoring the constitutional situation in Jammu and Kashmir to its pre-1953 position was discussed in detail by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and Indira Gandhi in 1974-75. “It is noteworthy that the agreement signed after these negotiations had affirmed that the provisions of the Constitution of India already applied to the state of Jammu and Kashmir without adaptation or modification are unalterable,” it said. Saying that the Centre was of the firm conviction that national integration and devolution of powers to the states must go together, the Cabinet urged the people and the government of Jammu and Kashmir to address the “real problems” facing the state: insurgency and cross-border terrorism. “The Centre will continue to provide all possible assistance for attaining these objectives,” it said. Dr Abdullah’s law minister, Mr P.L. Handoo, however, told reporters in Delhi: “We will not give up (the demand for autonomy), come what may... We feel assured that Kashmir will get autonomy, come what may.”


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