Centre asks Farooq for fresh autonomy proposal
19 July 2000
The Times of India
New Delhi: The Centre has asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to submit fresh proposals on the autonomy issue even as Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah on Wednesday said the Vajpayee government should set up a group of ministers to assess the quantum of autonomy for the state. ''Abdullah has been asked to come up with fresh proposals. We would like a rearrangement of powers between the Centre and states,'' Home Minister L.K. Advani said. ''Whether such an arrangement is formal or informal, the government would be willing to consider it,'' he said in a television interview. Earlier, Abdullah said the Centre should announce the formation of a group of ministers soon as such a forum alone could help assess the quantum of autonomy needed for his state. ''This could possibly be the only forum where the autonomy issue could be settled,'' Abdullah said after meeting several political leaders. Abdullah on Wednesday followed up on his Tuesday meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan, with calls on Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. Abdullah was accompanied by his team - state urban development minister G.M. Shah, law minister P.L. Handoo, finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather, education minister Mohd Shafi and former industries minister Budh Raj Bali. The Congress on its part has set up a special Kashmir cell comprising Pranab Mukherjee and Ghulam Nabi Azad and others which interacted with Abdullah''s team, it was learnt. Sources close to the chief minister said Abdullah was likely to convene an all-party meeting in Srinagar ''to counter the vilification against the autonomy issue by some vested interests''. At the meeting he would brief leaders of national parties on the state autonomy report and political leaders would also have an opportunity to present their reservations, if any, sources said. While other political leaders whom Abdullah met were not available for comment, Bardhan told the Times of India that he pressed on the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister that the autonomy issue should be discussed outside Parliament to evolve a national political consensus, and the government should be asked to honour it. He said his party largely accepted the autonomy proposal but not in the form it was passed in the state assembly. ''It contains a lot of things we do not agree with,'' Bardhan told Abdullah. The chief minister also called on Pawar at his residence and briefed him on the issue. In his meeting with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Abdullah tried to allay the former''s misgivings on the issue. Yadav had vehemently opposed the autonomy move and called it ''anti-national.'' Later, Abdullah told newsmen that his party would not pull out of the National Democratic Alliance. ''This was never an issue. Only the media linked the two issues,'' Abdullah said. On his meetings with political leaders, he said, ''They were positive. The Congress has formed a sub-committee to discuss the issue and we expect more of this from other political parties.''