PM ready to discuss devolution of more powers for J&K, says NC chief
24 June 2002
New Delhi: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday agreed to hold discussions with National Conference leaders on the demand for devolution of more powers to the Jammu and Kashmir Government. A delegation led by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and the newly-anointed president of the National Conference, Omar Abdullah, called on the Prime Minister at his residence. ''The Prime Minister assured us that he was willing to hold discussions on devolution of more powers to the State and I will take this assurance to chalk out future course of action,'' Mr Omar Abdullah told reporters after the meeting. When asked about the Centre''s opposition to restore the pre-1953 status to the State, Mr Omar said, ''When you begin a discussion, you put your stakes high. Later on whatever comes out of the discussion and is mutually acceptable would be implemented.'' ''We have a team of representatives ready and we were only waiting for the Centre to announce its team which would hold discussions with us,'' he added. Mr Abdullah said he had not submitted his resignation from the post of MoS in the Ministry of External Affairs so far. ''I told the Prime Minister that I will not be able to do justice to both the jobs and I could neither be of any major help to him (Vajpayee) nor to Jaswant Singh,'' he said. The NC chief denied reports that his party was raking up the autonomy issue to derail the proposed talks between the Union Government and the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. ''I have already offered my home as the venue for holding such talks. How much more support does one need?'' he asked. Mr Abdullah said he wanted more and more separatist to join the poll process because that would help his party become more and more stronger. He preferred not to speak on his recent outburst against the Centre for treating his father, Dr Farooq Abdullah, shabbily. ''My father has already rejected a Cabinet berth. The question doesn''t arise now,'' he added. Dr Abdullah said he had come to New Delhi to introduce the new president of his party to the Prime Minister ''although he know him very well.'' Dr Abdullah ruled out the possibility of deferring State polls, scheduled to be held before October 14 when the term of the present Assembly expires. ''Why should we defer polls? Where does the need arise?'' he told reporters here after holding a 30-minute meeting with the Prime Minister. The Chief Minister was reacting to certain media reports that polls were likely to be delayed till March in deference to the demands of separatist elements willing to contest polls, but only under Governor''s rule. ''There is no need for deferring of elections in the State as no catastrophe has struck nor any natural disaster has taken place,'' Dr Abdullah said. ''You have poll observers from the Election Commission monitoring the elections. Besides, we have a national as well as international media, which actually acts as a watchdog. So where is the scope of rigging,'' he added.