Special powers: Centre lobs ball into Farooq court
29 July 2001
The Indian Express
New Delhi: IN a significant initiative on Kashmir since the failed Agra Summit, the Centre has asked Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to propose a package of ''special powers'' for the state instead of the pre-1953 level of autonomy which his Assembly demanded through a resolution last year. This may not be easy for Farooq. For, Home Minister L K Advani, while announcing the option of special powers four days ago in Parliament, rejected the autonomy demand, saying it would ''set the clock back'' and take Kashmir out of the purview of the Supreme Court, Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General and even the President. In other words, the package that Farooq has been invited to come up with cannot be a repetition of the autonomy demand. Says his son, Omar Abdullah, the new minister of state for external affairs and who is seen as India''s latest spokesman on Kashmir: ''The chief minister will meet the home minister soon and find out what kind of special powers the Centre is willing to confer.'' As for his own role in this exercise, Omar said he would be ''kept in the loop'' but as of now was ''really not sure'' what kind of special powers could be worked out to the satisfaction of the Centre and Kashmir within the given constraints. ''We in the National Conference of course hope that the proposed special powers will be as close as possible to the autonomy report,'' he said. Omar''s guarded response is not surprising as it is hard to conceive of any special power not already sought by the 184-page Kashmir autonomy report, which was the basis of the state assembly resolution in June 2000. The conferment of special powers, whatever their nature, may require the Centre to issue a Presidential Order under, ironically enough, Article 370, the very Constitutional provision that has long been anathema to the BJP. It was through a succession of such orders under Article 370 that the Centre applied various Constitutional provisions to Kashmir, subjecting it like other states to Central controls, such as the Supreme Court, Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General and power to impose President''s Rule. Legal experts say the proposal of giving special powers to Kashmir cannot take off unless the Centre resiles on its wholesale rejection of the autonomy package and negotiates on aspects that do not necessarily undermine the integrity of the nation. Besides recommending the repeal of most Central controls, the autonomy report said that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to have a different set of fundamental rights and that the Central laws should not apply to the state except in matters related to defence, external affairs and communications. On July 4, 2000, the Union Cabinet rejected the autonomy resolution, saying its acceptance would ''reverse the natural process of harmonising the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the integrity of the nation.'' It said that most of the recommendations would ''adversely affect the interests of the people of the state'' and were ''tantamount to removal of some of the essential safeguards enshrined in our Constitution.''