PM promises fair polls in J&K, asks militants to ‘prove popularity’
18 March 2002
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: Promising ''fair'' Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and asking militant groups to participate in it to ''prove their popularity'', Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today announced he will soon visit the State to have ''wide-ranging'' consultations with various sections to work out poll strategy. ''I will go to Jammu and Kashmir along with Home and Defence Ministers to take stock of the situation there and have discussions to evolve a strategy,'' Vajpayee said winding up the two-day discussions on motion of thanks to President’s address in Rajya Sabha which was adopted by voice vote after negation and withdrawal of amendments moved by opposition members. Touching upon various issues like Ayodhya, economy and India’s improving relations with China, Vajpayee warned that the Government would have to take ''unpopular'' decisions to check mounting fiscal deficit if the country has to move on high growth path of eight per cent as the present rate of 5.4 per cent is certainly not ''impressive.'' On Ayodhya, Vajpayee expressed concern over health of VHP leader Ashok Singhal, now on an indefinite fast at Kar Sevak Puram, and said if necessary Government would take him into ''protective custody''. Referring to improving relations with China, Vajpayee announced he would visit Beijing which would be preceded by the visit of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. Vajpayee said the Government had to rollback the hike in LPG price because of general resentment and parties’ concern over ensuing elections. But there was no escape from taking ''unpopular decisions'' to check the deteriorating fiscal situation with most of the revenue being gobbled by ever-increasing Government wage bill and pensions. In an obvious dig at the opposition for trying to topple him, Vajpayee said ''I am ready to sit in the opposition where I had spent most of my political career. But there must be someone to replace. Even after you come this side, these issues will persist and pose a challenge to you.'' Fiscal discipline could not be taken lightly, he said adding by changing Government, the economic problems would not cease to exist. It was precisely for this reason ''we must have consensus'' among political parties to put the economy back on the rails including the issue of disinvestment of Public Sector Undertakings. Bowing to the demand of women members, Vajpayee said he would soon convene an all-party meeting of political parties to chalk out a strategy on how to go about for early passage of Women’s Reservation Bill. Vajpayee refuted Congress allegation that Andhra Pradesh Government has been allowed to aproach the World Bank directly for a structural adjustment loan for carrying out reforms of the State finances. ''There has been a misunderstanding,'' he said, adding the allegation by Congress leader Arjun Singh that the Centre had thrown to winds the economic sovereignty was not true. The World Bank loan has been sanctioned with the permission of the Centre and no state is allowed to approach multilateral agencies directly, he said, ''We have to maintain economic sovereignty. We must not compromise on it. There should not be any doubt about it,'' he said. Turning to criticism on disinvestment, the Prime Minister said the Government was not closing down any Public Sector Undertakings. ''We are not selling the national assets as alleged in some quarters. Disinvestment does not meen putting the shutter on PSUs,'' he said adding it was being done as they had become a ''big burden'' on the economy. Referring to remarks made by a Supreme Court judge during the hearing of Ayodhya Bhumi Pujan case that this is not a Parliament, Vajpayee regretted that such observations should have been made. ''I do not want get into the controversy between legislature and judiciary,'' he said adding ''but we have to sit together to determine what is the responsibility of judiciary and legislature. ''The NDA manifesto is very clear to carry forward judicial reforms,'' he said adding ''we will formulate policy in this regard after consulting various political parties.'' Referring to alleged remarks by BJP MP Vinay Katiyar regarding the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar, the Prime Minister said the reports had been denied by Katiyar himself. ''The media has a duty to cross check such statements before going to print,'' he said adding such reports can cause much damage by arousing communal passions. On the performance of NDA Government during the past four years, Vajpayee said ''no Government has been able to complete such a long tenure (in coalition politics) and regional parties, which have come of age, are playing an important role.'' To the demand of BJP member Mahesh Chandra for redesigning the national tricolour, Vajpayee said it was totally unnecessary.