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June 26, 2000
J&K assembly adopts autonomy report
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
The Jammu and Kashmir assembly today adopted the State Autonomy Committee's report and asked the Centre to immediately implement it.
The assembly adopted the report through a substantive substitute motion amidst thumping of desks by National Conference members and a walkout by some opposition members. The motion, moved by Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister P L Handoo, was carried by a voice vote.
The state assembly also adopted an amendment moved by three ruling party members, Mohammad Shafi Bhat, Ghulam Mohammad Bawan and Sadiq Ali. It demands that "the Union government and the state government take positive and effective steps for implementation of the SAC report".
The SAC report recommended that the state be restored all subjects for governance except defence, foreign affairs, currency and communication. The Bharatiya Janata Party, Janata Dal, United, the Panthers Party and independent member Kuka Parray voted against the motion and staged a walkout. The Congress, which also voted against the motion, did not join them.
"We want complete integration of the state with the rest of the country. We are opposed to the restoration of autonomy," said Shiv Charan Gupta, senior BJP leader in the house.
As per the motion, the government has formed a five-member ministerial consisting of Housing Minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah, Education Minister Mohammad Shafi, Finance Minister A R Rather, Law Minister Handoo and Tourism Minister S S Salathia to initiate a dialogue with the Centre on the SAC report.
Before the motion was put to vote, the house witnessed angry scenes with opposition members protesting against the remarks of Mohammad Shafi Bhat who allegedly said, "Burn the Constitution."
BJP, Congress and Panthers Party members stormed the well of the house, shouting. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had to intervene to restore order. He even threatened to expel Bhat from the party.
The speaker later clarified that Bhat had not made the offending remark. As the motion was placed in the house, the speaker invited opposition members to speak on it. Bahujan Samaj Party member Sheikh Abdul Rahman supported it while Congress member Tara Chand described it as a "gimmick by both the BJP and NC" aimed at "safeguarding their vote banks in Jammu and the valley".
"The BJP wants to safeguard its vote bank in Jammu while NC will use this autonomy card to grab votes in Kashmir," Chand said.
Gupta, while opposing the resolution, said, "Taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations was a big mistake." He added that Pandit Nehru had said that Article 370 was a temporary provision in the Constitution.
But State Industries Minister Dr Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, younger brother of the chief minister, wanted the Centre to restore the 1952 position. "By adopting the SAC report we have restored the honour and dignity of the people of state".
In his nearly two-hour speech, Abdullah said it was hatred that had led to the Partition of India and created a separate state of Pakistan. "Don't push us to the wall. We won't push you to the wall," he told the opposition.
He said, "We are not anti-Indian as we have proved our credentials time and again." Dr Abdullah exuded confidence that the Centre would respect the long-standing urge of the state and remove the mistrust created by erosion in the state's special status.
Winding up proceedings, the chief minister said the "adoption of the report was a leap forward towards realisation of our goal of greater autonomy". He strongly denied that his party was against dialogue with the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference and said, "Let them talk to Pakistan or anyone else."
He appealed to the opposition to eschew the tendency of dividing people on regional, religious or ethnic lines on this issue.
Dr Abdullah accused elements in Delhi of engineering trouble and a disinformation campaign against the report. He said his party did not make hollow promises, and reiterated that it would steer the state from disaster.
He said the Centre had assured him during the 1996 elections of restoration of autonomy. "Autonomy was the main plank of my party," he said. "The people of Kashmir were frightened in 1996" and "feared to align themselves with pro-India forces".
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