Jaitley is negotiator for talks on devolution of powers
16 July 2002
New Delhi: In a major initiative, the Central Government today appointed the former Union Law Minister, Arun Jaitley, as the negotiator for talks on devolution of powers-autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Jaitley will talk to the Jammu and Kashmir Government as well as political parties and leaders. An announcement to this effect was made by the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, in the Lok Sabha. The Vajpayee Government has already rejected the National Conference''s ''autonomy'' stand, a demand for the restoration of the pre-1953 relations between the Centre and the State. However, by appointing a negotiator for talks on ''devolution of powers'', the Centre has provided the NC leadership with a slice of political satisfaction. The NC now can legitimately claim to have extracted a ''concession'' from the Centre. Mr. Jaitley emerged as the front-runner for the job some time ago when he was still in the Union Cabinet. However, it is believed that while the State Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah was agreeable to Mr. Jaitley, his son, Omar Abdullah had reservations, which held up the announcement. Meanwhile, Mr. Jaitley moved out of the Government. But last Sunday, Dr. Abdullah conveyed his Government''s consent to Mr. Jaitley''s appointment. The legal crux of the Jaitley mission would be anchored in Para Four of the 1975 Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi Accord. Para Four concedes that ''with a view to assuring freedom to the State of Jammu and Kashmir'' in welfare measures, cultural matters, social security, personal law and procedural law, ''it is agreed that the State Government can review the laws made by Parliament or extended to the State after 1953 on any matter relatable to the Concurrent List and may decide which of them, in its opinion, needs amendment or repeal.'' Because of the reasonably amicable relations between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi, Para Four was never seriously sought to be implemented. The NC raked it up in the run-up to the 1996 Assembly elections and the Farooq Abdullah Government got the State Assembly to pass a resolution to this effect in June 2000, which was promptly rejected by the Vajpayee Government. The decision now to appoint a negotiator on autonomy-devolution of powers is part of a larger strategy to signal the Centre''s willingness to engage groups, besides the NC, in a dialogue. The thinking is that the Jaitley mission is not going to be completed in a few weeks or even a few months, and should the ''separatist camp'' decide to test — and establish — its claims of being the ''sole representative'' of the Kashmiri people, then the negotiations would continue with the newly-elected representatives, whoever they may be. It is in this context that the Vajpayee Government has been stressing its commitment to hold ''free and fair'' elections. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had not long ago invoked the ''parameters of insaniyat'' (humanity), while the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narashima Rao, had talked of ''short of azadi, sky is the limit'' formulation. The ''autonomy-devolution of powers'' negotiations is the beginning of a long process to entice the separatists to sit across the table.