July 2000 News

PM gives Farooq room to Deal

12 July 2000
Asian Age
Seema Mustafa

New Delhi: The Vajpayee government, in a bid to ease the National Conference pressure on Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah to pull out of the National Democratic Alliance, is now drawing a distinction between the resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the report of the state autonomy committee. The government, according to sources, has only rejected the resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and not the report of the state autonomy committee on which it was based. The resolution had asked the state and Union governments to accept, endorse and implement the autonomy report. ''Why should we do so just because it has been discussed by the state Assembly, after all the autonomy report has to be examined and discussed by us here as well,'' the sources said. The report, the sources insist, has not been rejected. It is at present being examined by the standing committee of secretaries under Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar. The government, the sources said, was very willing to look into the recommendations of the report and the question of autonomy afresh. The modalities and the mechanism could be worked out provided Dr Farooq Abd-ullah was agreeable during his meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee later this week. The sources said several recommendations in the report could even be accepted by the Centre with modifications. ''Suppose there are 100 recommendations, 50 could even be found to be acceptable with some modifications,'' the sources said, citing as very feasible the autonomy report''s recommendation that state elections be overseen by a state election commission. The sources took care to emphasise that it was just the resolution that had been rejected and repudiated, and nothing else. The Centre is still open to the autonomy resolution and quite willing to examine all the many recommendations at a Centre-to-state government level. It was pointed out that there could be no question of a discussion in Parliament at this stage on the report, which had to be first examined and discussed at the government-to-government level. ''Besides, there cannot be a debate on what will essentially be a deal, in the open,'' the sources added. Significantly, the sources were of the view that Union home minister L.K. Advani, who had in his first reaction suggested a Parliament discussion on the autonomy report, had ''erred'' or, perhaps, ''meant that Parliament could come in at a later stage.'' The sources claimed that the confusion around the autonomy issue had been generated by the media''s projection of outright rejection and an over-reaction by the National Conference. It was pointed out, however, that a return to the pre-1953 status for Jammu and Kashmir ''does not make sense as a lot has happened since then.'' Dr Abdullah, who is reportedly looking for a way out of the current impasse in the state, will be able to return to Srinagar with the assurance that the autonomy report will now be looked at favourably by the BJP-led government. The BJP, which had mounted a virulent attack on the report, is now softening its stand. Senior leaders have now claimed that there should be a discussion on the issue even though earlier spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu had gone on the record to state that the ''problem is Article 370, misgovernance, corruption and misutilisation of funds.'' The entire exercise now is aimed at warding off National Conference pressure to withdraw support to the Union government and surmounting the threatening crisis. The Prime Minister''s visit and subsequent offer of talks with the chief minister are indicative of a softening in stance. This has followed Mr Vajpayee''s statement in Chennai where he spoke of more fiscal and political powers for the state, and Union law minister Ram Jethmalani''s rather conciliatory interview keeping the offer of talks open. Government circles here are optimistic that the meeting between the Prime Minister and Dr Abdullah will defuse the crisis.


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