Centre ready to resume 'autonomy' talks
11 October 2002
New Delhi: The Centre is prepared to resume the 'autonomy-devolution of powers' dialogue with the 'representative of Jammu and Kashmir' as soon as a new government comes into being in Srinagar. The dialogue was suspended after two rounds of talks between the Centre's representative, Arun Jaitely, former Union Law Minister, and the Jammu and Kashmir Government nominee, G.M.Shah, senior-most Minister in the Farooq Abdullah Government. The Centre had appointed Mr. Jaitely as its 'representative' after the National Conference Government chose to revive its demand for 'autonomy' on the eve of the elections. However, the dialogue had to be interrupted as the Farooq Abdullah Government got distracted by the elections. It was agreed that the dialogue would be resumed soon after the elections, though, of course, the expectation both in New Delhi and Srinagar was that the National Conference would be able to win its way back to power. Because the National Conference was very much a part of the National Democratic Alliance Government in New Delhi, the dialogue was seen -in and out of the Valley- as an internal arrangement between two friends. Whereas the National Conference pretended it was demanding greater 'autonomy', the Centre maintained that the talks were only about devolving, if possible and desirable, more powers on Jammu and Kashmir. The two rounds of talks barely touched the surface of the problem. The exercise would have to start anew with the non- National Conference Government. However, a part of the Vajpayee establishment had hoped that somehow the 'secessionist' camp would allow itself to be persuaded to participate in the elections; it was mentally prepared to hold a dialogue with whosoever were to emerge as the 'elected representative' of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately the 'secessionist' camp failed to take advantage of this window of opportunity. It is realised that it would be a while before the new government sorts out its priorities. The first non- National Conference regime in a long time may not be all that inclined to plunge head-on into a dialogue process. Nonetheless, the Centre's willingness will be reiterated soon. Meanwhile, it is learnt that the Kashmir Committee, headed by another former Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani, hopes to continue its labours as soon as the post-election dust settles down in the Valley. Though it is still being debated whether the Centre should grant audience -and respectability- to leaders from the secessionist camp so soon after an electoral exercise which they boycotted.