NATIONAL

Talks only on devolution: BJP

NEW DELHI JULY 26. The Bharatiya Janata Party has again emphatically rejected autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. The party let it be known that the "talks'' between the former Law Minister, Arun Jaitley, as representative of the Centre, and the State Government nominee, Ghulam Mohideen Shah, which began on Thursday would be limited to discussing the devolution of more powers to the State.

"We believe autonomy without accountability is not in the national interest, and a return to the pre-1953 status would mean no accountability in relation to the Constitution,'' the party spokesperson and general secretary, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, said today. The BJP intended to contest the Assembly polls in the State later this year "on our own steam'' and there would be "no alliance or any electoral arrangement with the National Conference,'' Mr. Naqvi said. However, he could not give any credible response to questions on how the party could justify seriously contesting against the NC when the NC president, Omar Abdullah, was a Minister in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government at the Centre.

Privately, though, some BJP leaders concede that the NC-BJP contest would be more like a mock fight, that the Vajpayee Government wants the NC to return as the ruling party in the State, and finally, that the "talks'' on the devolution of powers have been initiated simply to allow the NC to claim concessions from the Centre.

Mr. Naqvi also rejected the RSS/Vishwa Hindu Parishad demand for a trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, but made it clear that the BJP too believed that Ladakh and Jammu had been meted out step-motherly treatment by successive state governments. The unequal development in the state must be rectified.

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