BJP softens stand on NC

NEW DELHI, JULY 12. The Bharatiya Janata Party has softened its stand on the National Conference and its demand for a discussion on autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir as if on cue from the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee.

No sooner had Mr. Vajpayee invited the Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, for talks here, the party spokesperson, Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu, decided to describe Dr. Abdullah as a ``great patriot'' although a few days earlier a senior party leader, Mr. J. P. Mathur, had said he represented ``Muslim fundamentalism.''

The party's tone on the autonomy resolution passed by the State Assembly had been much harsher than that of the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister from day one. However, after the RSS passed a strong resolution supporting abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, dismissal of the Farooq Abdullah Government, and the National Democratic Alliance breaking ties with the NC, the Vajpayee Cabinet ``rejected'' the autonomy resolution, as demanded by the RSS and the BJP.

But after the Prime Minister's indication yesterday that he had invited Dr. Abdullah for talks, the BJP's tone has noticeably changed. Although yesterday the BJP general secretary, Mr. M. Venkaiah Naidu, had rejected the proposal of the Law Minister, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, and stated that the ``Cabinet decision rejecting the autonomy demand was final,'' today the party vice- president, Mr. J. P. Mathur, said that in his view the talks could yield results in the very areas suggested by Mr. Jethmalani.

The party's stand remains that there should be ``no going back'' from the present situation. But it seems the Government has left the door open for ``devolution of more powers'' which could be in the form of more subjects to be transferred from the concurrent or union list to the State list. Some articles of the Constitution could also be ``adapted'' for Jammu and Kashmir through a presidential fiat, some senior party leaders indicated. Yet another view was that nothing would come out of the dialogue with the NC, but it would have served a useful purpose by preventing an immediate decision by the NC to walk out of the NDA.

Party leaders denied that the Government had given into pressure created by the National Conference by its threat to walk out of the NDA.

But it is admitted that neither the BJP nor the Government would have liked to see the start of the process of unravelling of the NDA.