The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Question mark over coalition

Srinagar, Oct. 12: Predictions of doom have started doing the rounds even before a coalition is forged to form the next government in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are set to resolve their differences and form the government in the state. However, most people in the Valley do not expect the two strange bedfellows to stay together for long. Ideologically, the Congress and the PDP are now far apart.

The Congress has a nationalist position on Kashmir, while the PDP — led by former Congress members Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter, Mehbooba — is now regarded as soft on militants. This is likely to create major differences between the two coalition partners on the issue of tackling militancy in the state.

“I don’t expect the new government to last. There are too many contradictions within the coalition,” said national Conference leader Omar Abdullah.

“If the PDP goes ahead with doing the things they have promised, like lifting the Disturbed Areas Act, scrapping the anti-terrorism Act, and curbing the powers of the security forces, do you think the Centre will allow this to happen in a sensitive terrorist-infested state'” asked Omar.

Besides, both the Congress and the PDP are likely to pitch for the chief minister’s post. Mufti Sayeed is in Delhi for talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi to resolve this tricky issue.

The PDP feels the chief minister should be from that party as it secured the maximum seats from the Valley.

“People in Jammu and Kashmir did not vote to instal the Congress in power. The Valley voted overwhelmingly for the PDP, as a regional party that understands the aspirations of Kashmiris,” asserted a PDP supporter.

The state unit of the Congress is divided over the issue. Some of them, including Saiffudin Soz, want Ghulam Nabi Azad to head the coalition. “The Congress is the second-largest party in the Assembly. We have the support of 15 Independent legislators and will get more. It is only logical to expect the chief minister to be from the Congress,” Soz said.

Soz was trying to get the eight Independents who have decided to support to the Congress-PDP alliance to issue a statement saying the Congress should head the coalition.

So far, the Independents have resisted the pressure to make such a statement as the group wants to support the government from outside.

But another section of Congress leaders in the state believe it would be better to let Mufti be the chief minister. “The alliance will be an uneasy one and the Congress should allow the PDP to be the senior partner,” said a Congress source.

There are already misgivings within this section of the Congress about the PDP statement on disbanding the special task force of the Kashmir police.

“We don’t welcome these kind of emotional statements. These decisions cannot be taken in a hurry. This is also a state wracked by terrorist violence, and security considerations must be uppermost,” a state Congress leader said.

The party will work for accountability from security forces so that people are not harassed, but security will remain a pivotal consideration.

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