Congress, PDP differ on 1975 power-sharing pact
12 December 2006
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: The Congress and PDP, partners in Jammu and Kashmir's ruling alliance, differed on the issue of self-rule and adhering to the 1975 Indira-Sheikh agreement on power sharing at a meeting here today of the Working Group set up to discuss the relation between the State and Centre. After a delay of over six months, the Working Group met at the Jammu and Kashmir House, which was converted into a fortress, under the chairmanship of former Justice Sageer Ahmed. During the meeting, which was boycotted by the National Conference, participants discussed the issue of Article 370 of the Constitution with regard to Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly Speaker Tara Chand, a Congress MLA, said the 1975 pact between then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah was final and political parties should push for strengthening the same, official sources said. However, this statement was not well received by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who said the agreement was only for power sharing and did no good to the people. She harped on her party's self-rule formula but failed to explain as to how it was different from the autonomy propogated by the National Conference, the sources said. The National Conference, the State's main opposition party, boycotted the meeting, saying the State Government had failed to ensure 'zero-tolerance' of human rights abuses as promised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The National Conference conveyed that its stand on Centre -state relations was well-defined in the State Assembly's resolution on autonomy passed in July 2000. The party also alleged that discussions on autonomy had remained a non-starter despite several assuances by the former NDA Government and the current UPA administration. The National Conference's absence was felt by several members, including CPI-M leader Mohammed Yusuf Targami, who said the deliberations were incomplete without it and those representing the other shade of opinion (separatists). In his speech, Tarigami called for an 'internal self-determination', whereby people of Kashmir could look after every sphere of the State's development while defence, foreign affairs and other important institutions remained with the Centre. 'The need of the hour is enforcing Article 370 in its truest form,' Tarigami said. Arun Jaitley, the BJP's representative at the meeting, said instead of discussing Centre-State relations, the participants needed to give more attention to the issue of restoring democracy in the State. Jaitley said his views about Article 370 were same as that of his party, which advocates its abolition. Kashmiri Pandit representative Ajay Chrangoo, while advocating the complete flow of the Constitution in the State, said by accepting the formula of self-rule, 'concerned' parties were working on the principles of 'two-nation theory' whereby two sets of governance are being created within the country, the sources said. Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz, who hails from Kashmir and was representing the Congress party at the meeting, did not say much, pointing out that he had to attend Parliament, the sources said. Pointing out that J&K enjoys special status under Article 370 of the Constitution, NPP MLA and former Minister Harshdev Singh said the special status has been misused by political leaders for their own interests including extension of Assembly's term from 5 to 6 years and keeping Ministry's strength at 20 per cent of both Houses as against 15 per cent of Lower House at Centre and other States. 'It is to be seen that have we used special status for the welfare of common masses'? he asked. He also called for setting up of provincial Assemblies in Jammu and Kashmir provinces and increase in Parliament and Assembly seats of Jammu region. The Working Group is one of five committees constituted after the second roundtable conference chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Srinagar in May. This was the only Working Group that had remained headless for nearly six months after the announcement of its formation. The State Government had earlier approached former Chief Justice A M Ahmadi, who sought commission-status for the Working Group. Finally, former Justice Sageer Ahmed, who resigned as chairman of the Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission in 2004 after the formation of a BJP Government in that state, was appointed to head the group. Besides discussing the strengthening of ties between the State and the Centre, the group will deliberate on matters related to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union, methods of strengthening democracy, secularism and rule of law in the State. The group will also discuss the effective devolution of powers among different regions of Kashmir to meet regional, sub-regional and ethnic aspirations. The Centre's pointsman on Jammu and Kashmir, N N Vohra, also attended the meeting.