Friday, July 26, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

J&K autonomy talks begin
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 25
In a calculated move to create a conducive atmosphere for holding the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP-led NDAís newly appointed interlocutor and former Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley set the ball rolling here today on the issue of greater autonomy or devolution of powers to the sensitive border state.

As expected, the talks got off the starting blocks with Mr Jaitley, who is also the BJP general secretary and spokesperson, holding discussions with the ruling National Conference nominee and J and K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullahís confidant Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Shah in the imposing North Block housing the Union Home Ministry.

During the meeting, Mr Shah, a senior minister in Dr Abdullahís Cabinet and the author of the report prepared by the J and K Autonomy Commission, underlined the NCís point of view. He also submitted various documents to Mr Jaitley to buttress the demand for autonomy. This was preceded by a one-on-one between Mr Jaitley and Mr Shah.

The timing of opening a dialogue on the NCís greater autonomy question and the Centreís devolution of power issue assumes significance. The Vajpayee government is keen to involve as wide a cross-section of political and public opinion in J and K, including the APHC in the upcoming Assembly elections.

The Centre had rejected outright the NCís demand for greater autonomy. It has also maintained that there is no question of returning to the pre-1953 status in J and K. Even though the NDA has a common agenda of governance, the BJP has sought abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution according special status to J and K.

Mr Jaitley has an unenviable brief in dealing with the devolution of power issue in respect of J and K. The talks, still at a preliminary stage, have to fall back on the 1975 Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord. At the same, Mr Jaitleyís expertise in matters of law and direct involvement as the Centreís troubleshooter has provided a shot in the arm to Dr Abdullah and his son, NC chief Omar Abdullah.

Kashmir observers here believe it is important to keep a dialogue going with all sections in J and K. This was direly need for long to arrest Pakistanís machinations and continued proxy war. A sense of security has to be created to infuse confidence in Kashmir that the Centre is keen to end the problem. They described as a positive development the urgency on both sides to get to the negotiating table despite the complexities of the situation coupled with the imponderables.

Clearly, the Jaitley-Shah interface has set the stage for the dialogue to gain momentum as a second meeting at the official level is fixed for the second week of August. Mr Shah held forth in building a case for according more powers to J and K and said both sides expressed their viewpoints on the autonomy issue.

A guarded Mr Jaitley refused to dilate on specifics except to confirm that the meeting had begun. The Centreís interlocutor will be meeting leaders of other parties and groups in J and K by and by.

The 1975 accord has six points. One, that J and K, which is a unit of the Union of India, shall be governed by Article 370 of the Constitution. Two, the residuary powers shall remain with the state; however, Parliament will continue to have power to make laws relating to the prevention of activities directed towards disclaiming, questioning or disrupting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; three, provisions of the Constitution already applied to J and K; four, the state government shall be consulted regarding the application of any such law to the state and the views of the government shall receive consideration; five, any changes in the Constitution relating to J and K certain specific matters shall take effect only after it receives the assent of the President; and six, no agreement was possible on the question of nomenclature of the Governor and the Chief Minister.

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