Farooq seeks national debate
21 June 2000
Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, today said the National Conference wanted a national debate on the issue of restoring autonomy to the State. Speaking in the Assembly on the second day of the discussion on the State Autonomy Committee report, he said, ''we can pass the resolution right now as we have absolute majority in the House but we want a thorough discussion over it so that everybody can have his viewpoint.'' To a remark by an Opposition member, the Chief Minister said, ''we are not anti-Indian. We are far better citizens than you.'' Dr. Abdullah told the Opposition members, ''if you feel our argument is wrong, you are free to tell us.'' Mr. Abdur Raheem Rather, a senior NC member and State Minister, said the party was ready to make any sacrifice for restoration of greater autonomy as it was the only solution to the various problems facing the State and would not at all undermine the importance of Indian supremacy. ''Even if the Centre stops funds to the State we will continue to demand for the restoration of autonomy in order to uphold the dignity and honour of the people,'' he said. Seeking to allay fears on the issue, which he alleged, were being spread by parties such as the BJP and the Congress(I), Mr. Rather said, ''it is not for the first time the NC is demanding autonomy. It has always been top priority.'' On not including any Opposition party member in the SAC, Mr. Rather said, ''it was the demand of the NC. How could we accommodate a member who would oppose the demand and not allow its completion?'' The Information Minister, Mr. Ajatshatru Singh, grandson of the late Maharaja Hari Singh who signed the instrument of accession with the Indian Union, said, ''my grandfather wanted Jammu & Kashmir to be an independent State but it could not be due to the invasion of Pakistani tribals in 1947.'' He urged the members not to distort history and let the State enjoy autonomy. The Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. T. Namgayal, who represents Nobra (Leh) segment in the Assembly, said Ladakhis supported the demand for autonomy and that those talking about separation were doing it for their ''petty vested interests''. Denying that Ladakh was being discriminated against, he said the Autonomous Hill Council had the Government''s financial support. The NC''s Mr. Mohammad Shafi Bhat pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehru had assured the Kashmiris that they would be allowed to decide their future and also took the issue to the United Nations. Hi s colleague, Mr. G. M. Bawan, also supported the demand. Though supporting autonomy, the People''s Democratic Party legislator, Mr. A. R. Veeri, said it was better to have a dialogue with the alienated people as violence in the State had assumed alarming proportions. ''If the State and Central Governments are sincere they should extend a formal invitation to the Hurriyat Conference leaders to discuss the issue,'' he said. Chowdary Piara Singh and Mr. Hans Raj Dogra of the BJP, Mr. T. Dorjey of the Congress(I) and the Awami League''s Mr. Kukka Parrey were among those who opposed the resolution.