NC, PDP United On J&K Autonomy

24 December 2009
India Today
Naseer Ganal

Srinagar: The recommendation to consider the demand for Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy by a Prime Minister's Working Group has evoked mixed political reactions in the state. Rivals National Conference (NC) and People's Democratic Party (PDP) are more or less on the same page over the issue. The ruling NC has greeted the suggestion, while the PDP has 'partly welcomed it'. The BJP, however, rejected the proposal while the Congress played safe by reserving its comment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up five working groups on the state in March, 2006. Four of them had submitted their reports in April 2007 to the prime minister. The fifth, headed by Justice (retired) Saghir Ahmed, a retired Supreme Court judge, submitted its report on Wednesday to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah through retired bureaucrat Ajit Kumar. Justice Saghir, in his report, said it was for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide how long to continue Article 370 in its present form and when to make it permanent or abrogate. 'The matter being 60 years old should be settled once and for all,' the report said. Senior BJP leader Chaman Lal Gupta said: 'We reject the report. It was to be presented to the Prime Minister but has been handed over to the chief minister.' He said the working group was constituted to bring the state closer to the Centre but ended up creating more distance by talking about autonomy and self-rule. 'Article 370 doesn't involve the people of Jammu and Kashmir only. The Article has created a wedge between the state and Centre and must be abrogated,' Gupta said. The country would have to take a decision on the issue, he added. Ali Muhammad Sagar, a senior NC leader and the law and parliamentary affairs minister said the party always stated that time would come when New Delhi would consider granting internal autonomy to the state and the report was a step towards it. He said the NC was always in favour of making the Article 370 as a permanent provision of the Constitution. 'We will continue to raise this demand,' Sagar said. Though the PDP expressed its dismay over the presentation of the report to Abdullah instead of the Prime Minister, it welcomed it, saying it was a good beginning. 'There are certain issues which we had raised that the report has touched. We want those points to be taken further,' she said, adding that the report recommends that the self-rule document should be 'considered'. About the self-rule clause, the Prime Minister's working group said it appeared to relate to 'autonomy' in a wider context which required to be considered by the Centre. PDP's Mehbooba Mufti said her party 'rightly' presented the case for autonomy to the Prime Minister. 'The PM's group was formed to address Centre-state relations. The PDP's self-rule demand addresses external dimensions of the Kashmir issue including its relation with Pakistan. 'So we rightly handed over the self-rule document to the Prime Minister,' she said. However, Mehbooba said Article 370 must be made a permanent feature of the Constitution instead of calling it temporary provision. 'This is our consistent demand and we will pursue it,' she said. The CPM expressed its displeasure over the way the report was presented. The party's state secretary and MLA M.Y. Tarigami, who was a member of the PM's working group on strengthening Centrestate relations said the discussions between members of the group on their respective proposals was left half way. He said the way the recommendations were submitted without thorough discussion did not augur well for the purpose for which it was constituted. The Congress was cautious about its reaction to the report. 'We will go through it, debate on it before giving our detailed response,' senior Congress leader Abdul Gani Vakil said.