Sharp Differences At Working Group Meet On Jammu And Kashmir
2 September 2007
New Delhi: There were sharp differences of opinion over the possible mechanism of improving the Centre-State relations on the first day of the meeting of the fifth working group appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss relations between the Union Government and Jammu and Kashmir. Chaired by Justice (retired) Sagheer Ahmed, the working group is deliberating on the issues pertaining to devolution of powers, methods of strengthening of democracy, secularism and rule of law and regional imbalance in development. With the political parties sticking to their stand over this contentious issue, the proposals presented to the working group so far include a demand for self-rule for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, autonomy in the nature of pre-1953 status, maintenance of the status quo and abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution involving full integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India. Presentation on 'Self- rule' An important aspect of this meeting was a presentation by Chief Information Commissioner and former U.S. think-tank fellow Wajahat Habibullah, who was a special invitee at Sunday's meeting. His presentation on 'Self-rule in Jammu and Kashmir' envisaged a roadmap for grass-root democracy and empowerment at the lowest levels. He called for institutionalising an elected 'Zila Shoura' (District Advisory Councils) besides empowering panchayats to strengthen local democratic institutions. He also favoured an Election Commission and regional councils for the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. While National Conference member Abdul Rahim Rather described political instability as the root cause of all problems and called for an early solution to the Kashmir issue, Bharatiya Janata Party representative Arun Jaitley demanded complete integration of the State into the Indian Union by abrogating Article 370. He also called for decentralisation of power within the State to empower the Ladakh and Jammu regions. People's Democratic Party nominee in the Group Mehbooba Mufti focussed on 'self-rule' and decentralisation of powers within the State. 'Psychological barrier' Favouring abolition of Article 370, Mr. Jaitley said this provision was a psychological barrier between a constituent State and the Indian Union. 'It continued to act as a political and psychological barrier. It prevented the economic development of the State inasmuch as it was a deterrent for potential investors.' Mr. Abdul Rahim Rather said the issue of Kashmir was purely a political problem and called for adopting a political approach to settle the issue. He said the state Autonomy Committee report took due care of all the issues concerned and could prove a remedy for an early resolution.