In a balancing act, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Monday backed Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's desire to lift the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from a few districts of the State, even as he said the Congress's demand for more consultations on the issue was “perfectly understandable.”
The Home Minister, however, clarified that the decision to review the application of the AFSPA in J&K emanated from the Centre and not the State.
Talking to journalists at his monthly press conference, he stressed that this was part of an eight-point programme that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had formulated last year to help restore normality in the State.
Mr Abdullah, Mr. Chidambaram said, was expected to revert to the Centre after the State Cabinet reviewed the matter. “Let the Chief Minister come back to us after conducting a review. This is a CCS decision and I am part of the CCS,” he said.
If the Chief Minister wanted to hasten the process of reviewing the AFSPA, the Home Minister said there was “nothing unusual or new” or “wrong” with that. But if the Congress, a coalition partner in the Omar Abdullah-led government, wanted “more consultations,” he said, that was perfectly understandable. Indeed, he added, there could be more consultations in the Union Cabinet, too. “In a democracy, we can have consultations any number of times.”
The controversy over the possible withdrawal of the AFSPA arose after the Chief Minister recently indicated his keenness to partially withdraw the AFSPA from some areas of the State, and several State Congress leaders, including J&K PCC chief Saifuddin Soz, complained that Mr. Abdullah had not consulted their party.
In Delhi, senior party functionary Mohan Prakash too maintained an ambivalent position, saying that a decision on withdrawal of the AFSPA could be taken only after the Home Ministry, the Army, intelligence agencies and the security forces were consulted, while maintaining need for “better coordination” between the coalition partners in J&K.
Meanwhile, a senior Congress functionary responding to the Home Minister's statement said while there was need to withdraw the AFSPA, it was important to keep in mind what repercussions such a move in J&K could have in the north-east, where the draconian law is in force in some parts. It cannot be forgotten that civil rights activist from Manipur Irom Sharmila was on hunger strike for 11 years, demanding the revocation of the AFSPA, he noted.