Thursday, March 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Vohra tests waters in Kashmir
Meets Governor, ministers
Tribune News Service

Jammu, March 5
The Government of India’s interlocutor, Mr N. N. Vohra, today had a series of meetings with important persons to draw up a strategy for in-depth discussions with the elected representatives and others in order to facilitate the process of peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr Vohra, on reaching the winter capital by a special plane, drove straight to the Raj Bhavan where he had an hour-long meeting with the Governor, Mr G. C. Saxena. The two continued their discussion over lunch also.

From the Raj Bhavan Mr Vohra visited the Assembly and the civil secretariat where he had an hour-long meeting with the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr Tara Chand. Mr Tara Chand told this correspondent, “We discussed various political and the security aspects, including the difficulties being faced by the border migrants.”

However, Mr Vohra refused to divulge the details of his exercise as an interlocutor. He told mediapersons “You can take pictures but I have nothing else to say.”

When pressed to reveal whether he was meeting separatists, he said, “My work has just begun. I will meet everyone with the passage of time. You know what the Prime Minister has said on the proposed talks and accordingly I will meet all.”

Mr Vohra also met the Chairman of the Legislative Council, Mr Abdul Rashid Dar, and some ministers. He had a detailed meeting with the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma. Mr Sharma said during the meeting he had suggested to Mr Vohra that he should meet the elected representatives of the people and those belonging the upper House first of all. He said he had informed the interlocutor that since the durbar will remain open in Jammu till the end of April, all Legislators and ministers would be available in the winter capital.

The Deputy Chief Minister said Mr Vohra would first meet legislators and leaders belonging to the main political parties, which included the Congress, the PDP, the NC, the Peoples’ Democratic Forum and even those which had one member in the Assembly. In reply to a question Mr Sharma said Mr Vohra would meet others also later.

Mr Vohra made it clear that everyone was welcome to meet him and he was keen to hear everyone’s views. When asked whether he would meet the Hurriyat Conference leaders, he said “the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have said in Parliament that I will meet everyone. But the question is who comes forward and at what stage, it is they who have to make up their mind.”

Mr Rigzin Jora, a Cabinet Minister from Ladakh, also met Mr Vohra. Mr Jora told mediapersons that he had invited the interlocutor to visit Ladakh to which Mr Vohra had agreed. He said while finding a solution to the problem interests of the three regions, including Ladakh, had to be kept in mind.

Later, Mr Vohra called on the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Mr Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah, and met Mr Abdul Qayoom, a former Minister and NC leader.

According to inside reports NC leaders suggested to Mr Vohra to give weightage to the demand for the restoration of greater autonomy to the state which alone could ensure durable settlement of the Kashmir issue.

In the evening Mr Vohra had a detailed meeting with the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who explained to him that the recent free and fair elections had granted a new hope among the people who were yearning for peace.

The Mufti is said to have told Mr Vohra that his government had initiated a healing touch to the people and this programme needed liberal financial assistance from the Centre.

Official sources maintained that Mr Vohra had adopted the role of a listener while trying to frame strategy for his interaction with elected representatives and others. After meeting several other mainstream political leaders he is scheduled to fly back to Delhi tomorrow. He is expected to visit Jammu shortly to start dialogue with different sections of political leaders and others.

When the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma, was asked whether Mr Vohra will succeed where Mr K. C. Pant and the Kashmir Committee members, headed by Mr Ram Jethmalani, had failed, he said the situation had changed now. “People yearn for peace after they felt satisfied with the free and fair Assembly poll and hence there was every chance of Mr Vohra succeeding”.

A UNI report from Srinagar adds that while rejecting Mr Vohra’s appointment as the Centre’s interlocutor on Jammu and Kashmir, the Awami National Conference (ANC) today said the move will further complicate the vexed issue.

According to a UNI report from Jammu National Conference chief Omar Abdullah on Wednesday asked the Centre to clarify the “scope” of the proposed talks between N. N. Vohra and various sections of people in the state.

Talking to UNI here, Mr Abdullah said the government must specify whether Mr Vohra has the mandate to discuss the basic issues.

He said it remained unclear as to who would Mr Vohra talk to. “The Centre always said the talks will have to be within the broad parameters of the Constitution. But now, it is being said the talks are unconditional.


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