Farooq returns empty-handed
23 July 2000
Srinagar: After a week-long ''mission'' to New Delhi to muster support for the autonomy issue, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) president, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, today returned to Srinagar but left his team of ministerial colleagues in Delhi, whom he is likely to join in the next two days. The chances of the NC working committee, which had approved Dr. Abdullah''s meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, resuming its deliberations in the near future seem to be bleak as Dr. Abdullah is yet to convince himself of the ''poor response'' from leaders of major political parties. Amid claims of ''breaking the ice'' on the issue in a positive direction, Dr. Abdullah has returned to Srinagar rather disheartened as the official line adopted by the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, is ''the State Government should come with fresh proposals,'' which he had rejected. Dr. Abdullah did not confine his deliberations to Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani but also tried to convince his Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu counterparts as also the Congress (I), Left and Samajwadi Party leaders, besides meeting the President, Mr. K.R. Narayanan, the Vice President, Mr. Krishan Kant and the former Prime Minister, Mr. Chandrashekhar. However, the reports emanating after these meetings do not indicate any favourable response to the demand based on the State Autonomy Committee (SAC) report passed by the J&K Assembly on June 26. Dr. Abdullah, who found himself in a tight spot after the Union Cabinet rejected the proposal on July 3, was left with no option but to convene a meeting of the NC working committee to decide on his party''s continuance in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). After the working committee meeting which began its deliberations on July 10, the NC general secretary, Sheikh Nazir Ahmed, said ''we are discussing only two options-whether to remain in the NDA or withdraw.'' But the sudden demise of his mother, Begum Akbar Jehan, on July 11, gave an escape route for Dr. Abdullah when the Prime Minister himself came to Srinagar to condole the death and invited him for further talks on the issue. Though the NC leaders were not hopeful of any breakthrough, the working committee extended its approval to the meeting which also pushed the issue of Mr. Omar Abdullah being withdrawn from the Union Council of Ministers to the background. Notwithstanding the brainstorming sessions, Dr. Abdullah led a team of NC leaders comprising Ministers, Mr. P.L. Handoo, Mr. A.R. Rather, Mr. Mohammad Shafi and Mr. Mohiuddin Shah and the MLC, Mr. Bodh Raj Bali. The Chief Minister seems to have been ''pushed to the wall'' this time with the Centre not even agreeing on constituting a Ministerial committee. Announcing a State-level committee with Mr. Handoo as the chairman has thus not served any purpose. He (Dr Abdullah) is now toying with the proposal of convening a meeting of Chief Ministers in Srinagar, which of course has been suggested by Mr. Karunanidhi as well. With all eyes set again on the resumption of the deliberations of the working committee which met on July 15, Dr. Abdullah is reported to be not in a hurry to convene its session. He asked his team members to stay back in Delhi and is likely to join them before they give up their ''mission'' outside the State. The NC''s parliamentary party also met in Delhi this evening to chalk out the strategy to be adopted in Parliament if the issue came up for discussion. Mr. Handoo confirmed that they were awaiting Dr. Abdullah''s return from Srinagar and would decide accordingly. ''So far, we have met a number of leaders and will continue to do so in order to remove misconceptions about autonomy,'' he told The Hindu over phone from Delhi. Dr. Abdullah also had a meeting with his son and the Union Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Omar Abdullah, before the later flew back to Delhi today. Mr. Omar refused to comment on the autonomy issue saying it was a ''party subject.''