The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Autonomy on Advani agenda

New Delhi, Oct. 24: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today chalked out the parameters for talks with the Hurriyat Conference, saying they would focus on “decentralisation” but ruled out any compromise on India’s unity and sovereignty.

Advani refused to explain in black and white what he meant by “decentralisation”, but political circles said it was a camouflage term — hence more acceptable — for greater autonomy and devolution of more powers to Jammu and Kashmir. A section of the Sangh is opposed to this.

“We have no problems in talking to the Hurriyat. We have been talking to Bodo and Naga groups and we can as well hold talks with it. But there will be no compromise on the country’s unity and sovereignty,” Advani said at a police function.

This has made matters tougher for the moderate Hurriyat faction led by Abbas Ansari, which has been treading cautiously on the talks proposal. Already, the militant faction headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has dubbed it a “useless and futile exercise”. Former Hurriyat chairman Umer Farooq today said: “We make it clear any dialogue process should be aimed at resolving the Kashmir issue.”

Sources said what Advani meant was that the talks would focus on what powers could be restored to Jammu and Kashmir given that the Centre had steadily stripped it off most of the “special status” conferred on it by Article 370.

“The term is more acceptable to Delhi and means the discussions will be centred on… devolution of power to the state. The NDA is keen on promoting India’s federal structure and devolving power from the Centre to the states, from states to the districts…,” a bureaucrat said.

He added the challenge was to offer the Hurriyat a package to sell to the Kashmiri people keeping in mind their special status. “The Kashmiris will have to understand that there is no chance of ever being part of Pakistan… At the same time, Delhi must be able to make this acceptable to the rest of the country.”

The bureaucrat said it would require “the skill of an astute negotiator to clothe whatever is finally worked out” to the advantage of all sides. “A senior political leader like Advani is capable of doing this,” he said.

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