In a major initiative to deal with the unrest in Kashmir, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday night that the Centre was willing to consider autonomy for the state within the ambit of the Constitution.
Reaching out the people of the state, Singh told a meeting of representatives of various political parties from the state here that if there was a consensus between them on autonomy, the Centre would consider it within the ambit of the Constitution.
"We are all servants of the Constitution. There are many shades of opinion in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir. I and my senior ministers present here show our seriousness in addressing the issues," he said.
Prime Minister said that he was aware of the alienation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and that it had to be removed. "Jammu and Kashmir residents must have a life of self-respect and dignity," he emphasised.
Noting that a "political solution" is the key to the problem in Kashmir, Singh made it clear that nothing will be done outside the framework of Constitution.
"The basic problem is political and there is a need to focus on developmental aspects, recognising the diversity in all the three regions of J and K," he said in his closing remarks after a four-hour-long meeting with an all party delegation from the state.
In his opening remarks while asking the people of Kashmir to give peace a chance, the prime minister said he recognised that "the key to the problem is a political solution that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people."
The Prime Minister in remarks telecast live to a national audience unveiled a fresh initiative to address the unrest in Kashmir and promised a sustained "internal and external" dialogue. He, however, urged the people there to "give peace a chance".
CPM leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami told reporters after the meeting that there was a need to bring Pakistan on board and resolve Kashmir issue.
Asked whether there was an assurance from the Prime Minister on holding talks with Pakistan, he said "what do you mean by holding external dialogue. He means Pakistan and not Nepal."
In his first public comments on the recent trouble in the Valley that has resulted in the death of nearly 50 people, Singh utilised the meeting to reach out directly to the youth who are in the forefront of the current agitation.
The Prime Minister spoke of "great pain" caused to him by the events in Kashmir and said, "I share the grief, the sorrow and the sense of loss of every mother, every father, every family and every child in Kashmir".
"Let us make a new beginning," he urged and said, " I appeal to the youth to go back to their schools and colleges and allow classes to resume. I ask their parents what future is there for Kashmir if your children are not educated?"
At the same time, Singh made it clear that the cycle of violence must now come to an end. It was the Government's duty to maintain law and order, and "we cannot allow the turmoil to continue".
Singh spoke of the "challenging task" being performed by the state police and other security forces, noting that many of them had been seriously injured in the past few weeks.
Addressing the unemployment problem of the state, Singh also announced setting up of an expert group under the chairmanship of noted economist Dr C Rangarajan to formulate a jobs plan for the state involving public and private sectors. It will submit its report within three months.
Central Ministers Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony, P Chidambaram, S M Krishna and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah were present at the meeting at the Prime Minister's House. The state's main opposition PDP kept away.
Among those participating from the state included National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, CPM leader Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, Independent MLAs Ghulam Hasan Mir, Congress leader Saif-ud-din Soz, BJP leader Chaman Lal Gupta and Panthers Party Chief Bhim Singh. PTI