Upset over Pakistan not inviting the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union (CPU) conference, to be held in Islamabad from September 30 to October 8, India Friday threatened to boycott the event.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan announced the decision after a meeting of Speakers from all states that had been called in New Delhi.
Mahajan said Speakers of all states “unanimously” decided that India will boycott the meeting if J&K Assembly Speaker Kavinder Gupta is not invited. “We (31 Speakers) reviewed the issue and felt this was wrong. We reject this decision. We are writing to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) chairperson that if the J&K Speaker is not invited, India will not attend the meeting or (they should) change the venue,” Mahajan said.
A parliament secretariat official said it had been suggested that the venue be shifted to Dhaka or London.
Pakistan government sources, however, said they did not invite the J&K Assembly Speaker since they don’t “recognise” the elected Assembly and the government in the state. “We do not issue visas to J&K’s elected political leaders and government officials as — according to our stated position — we don’t recognise the elections and the government in Kashmir, since it is disputed territory. Our demand has been to conduct a plebiscite in the whole of J&K,” a Pakistan official said.
The official cited the example of Naeem Akhtar, an MLA from the PDP, being denied a visa last year since he was a member of the elected J&K Assembly.
However, the official admitted that there had been exceptions to this rule, depending on the “purpose of travel” and “the atmosphere of dialogue process” between the two countries. “Some may say that they have travelled, but that happened when the dialogue process was moving positively — say, during (former President Pervez) Musharraf’s years. Or, if somebody wanted to travel for personal reasons, then visas were given owing to humanitarian grounds,” the official said.
Pakistan’s decision and India’s sharp reaction to it comes against the backdrop of two terrorist attacks in the last fortnight, which threaten to cast a shadow on the upcoming National Security Advisor-level talks expected to be held later this month.
The Ministry of External Affairs also objected to Islamabad’s “unilateral decision” not to invite Gupta, and said it “violates” CPA’s Constitution and goes “against the Commonwealth’s guiding principles of promotion of international understanding, world peace and democratic governance”.
MEA’s official spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “It is well-known that CPA is a membership organisation, which has constitutionally been bound for over a century now to invite all its member branches to the CPA annual conference so long as a branch is in good financial standing with the association. Indeed, when the 3rd Asia and India Regional CPA Conference was held in Islamabad in March 2007, the J&K branch was invited by the Pakistan CPA branch and three delegates from J&K had participated in the conference.”
At the meeting chaired by Mahajan, the Speakers of Goa and Andhra Pradesh said Pakistan’s decision was an “insult to India’s sovereignty and integrity”. Haryana’s Speaker called it a “political conspiracy”.
The Gujarat Speaker said action should be taken against Pakistan for violating CPA rules, while his Orissa counterpart called it an “international attack”. The Telangana Speaker said “we cannot go there leaving a part of our body behind”.
Rajya Sabha chairman P J Kurien said, “We should ask the CPA chairperson to either call J&K or shift the venue of the conference, else we will boycott it.”
Mahajan said many countries on the CPA executive committee backed India’s decision.
Gupta thanked the Speakers for the decision, saying it was a question of India’s unity and integrity. He said Pakistan had done this “deliberately” and India’s stand would send a strong message to Islamabad.
“So far as relevant provision in the CPA constitution is concerned, Article 8 provides that each branch shall be entitled to send a prescribed number of delegates and officials to each plenary conference and, accordingly, the J&K branch is entitled to send one delegate to the conference,” a statement from Lok Sabha secretariat, issued after the meeting, stated.
The meeting of Speakers also resolved to call upon Dr Shirin Chaudhury, Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament and chairperson of the CPA executive committee, to “use her good offices to immediately resolve the matter and ensure issue of invitation to the J&K CPA branch, failing which CPA India region…will boycott the 61st Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference”.
“It is wrong. They cited an old rule of 1951-57 regarding their having raised an issue in the UN Security Council for not inviting J&K Speaker,” Mahajan said.
She said the old rule was “irrelevant”, considering that the state had participated in such a conference in 2007.
(With inputs from Raghvendra Rao)