December 1998 News

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Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee rules out tampering with Article 370

7th December 1998
The Times of India

SRINAGAR: Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said here on Sunday there was no proposal to change the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This is considered significant as the BJP has all along been advocating that Article 370 of the Constitution, granting autonomy to the state, be scrapped.

In reply to a question, Mr Vajpayee said his government wanted to give more powers to all states.

The government has decided to give a bigger share of Centre's earnings to the states, he said.

Mr Vajpayee emphasised that India was a secular state where all communities were equal. But he regretted that intolerance had been on the increase. This needed to be fought, he said. He described the `Sangh Parivar' as a secular force.

The Prime Minister told Pakistan to give up its designs on Kashmir and to reciprocate India's efforts to forge good-neighborly relations. Mr Vajpayee is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, his first as Prime Minister.

Speaking at a civic reception, Mr Vajpayee said: ``From the soil of Kashmir, I have a message for the rulers of Pakistan and the people of the world. Kashmir is not merely a piece of land for us, nor is it important for us from only a strategic point of view. Kashmir is one of the best symbols of India's ancient civilization and modern nationhood.

``It is the strongest refutation of the communal basis for the two-nation theory.''

Mr Vajpayee said Pakistan had failed in its designs to break Jammu and Kashmir from India and would fail in future too. Asking Pakistan to stop sending infiltrators into Kashmir, the Prime Minister reiterated that India wanted to resolve all disputes through dialogue.

He asked the militants to shun the path of violence and adopt peaceful method of talks to sort out problems.

Addressing a Press conference later, the Prime Minister said the government would consider talking to the separatists only after they had given up the cult of violence.

The local leaders of the CPM boycotted the Prime Minister's civic reception. They said Mr Vajpayee had chosen December 6, anniversary of the Babri mosque demolition, for his visit to Jammu and Kashmir. ``That is unfortunate,'' general secretary of CPM's state unit Yusuf Tarigami said.

Mr Vajpayee said the Centre would do its best to help the state out of its economic difficulties. The chief minister had been invited to Delhi for a discussion on the issue later this month, he added.

Mr Vajpayee began his tour of the state from Ladakh. He flew straight from Delhi to Leh where he addressed a public rally. Later, he flew to Kargil which has been affected by Pakistani shelling across the Line of Control in the recent months. At a public meeting in Kargil Park, he announced a grant of Rs 1 crore for the construction of underground bunkers.

Mr Vajpayee is scheduled to visit Tangdar border area in Kashmir Valley on Monday. He will also visit Hiranagar, a small town in Kathua district of the Jammu region.

India and Pakistan should maintain status quo on Kashmir and discuss issues of trade, commerce and culture, Mr Vajpayee said.

``Let us freeze the Kashmir issue and discuss problems relating to trade, commerce and culture,'' he said, adding it was the duty of both the countries to maintain peace in the sub-continent since India and Pakistan have both gone nuclear.

``We are ready to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan under the Simla agreement,'' he said, stressing that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, is legally and constitutionally an integral part of India.


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