NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister has set up an eight member ministerial committee to identify the issues which should figure on the agenda of an all party conference on Punjab which he proposes to convene soon.

The conference is expected to be held later this month after Mr. Rajiv Gandhi considers and approves the structured agenda which the committee will finalize.

The committee is headed by External Affairs Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao, who is currently in New York attending the UN General Assembly session. He is expected to return in the middle of next week. Assuming that the committee will take a few days to complete its work, the conference can be expected to take place only in the second half of this month.

The other members of the committee are: Finance Minister S.B. Chayan, Home Minister Buta Singh, Defense Minister KC. Pant, Industry Minister J. Vengala Rao, Textile Minister R.N. Mirdha, and Welfare Minister Rajkumari Bajpayee. and Minister of State for Home P. Chidambaram.

Mr. Gandhi had announced his intention to convene an all party conference on Punjab during his visit to the State 10 days ago. Certain preliminary exercises had been undertaken subsequently by the Prime Minister’s office and the Cabinet Secretariat in this connection.

Although the demand for an all party conference on Punjab has been raised by many political parties, the Prime Minister had not responded to it. According to him, the risk in convening such a conference was that political parties and Opposition leaders tended to take rigid positions in public and came with prepared speeches to the conference. It became difficult, therefore, to reconcile the differences in approach among them and evolve a consensus in respect of measures to be taken.

There was also a proposal before the Prime Minister’s office that instead of a conference exclusively devoted to Punjab, the State’s problem and other national issues could be discussed at a larger and expanded conference comprising all parties.

The constitution of a committee and that too with such a large membership, indicates that the proposal has been given up and only Punjab will be discussed initially.

This also means that the invitees to the conference will include all Akali factions.

Article extracted from this publication >> October 14, 1988