The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kashmir focus on two hotels and a home

Srinagar Oct. 17: For Kashmir’s scheming kingmakers, all roads now lead to three destinations.

As whispers of horse-trading and promises of “bags of money” float in the air heavy with intrigue, cars with tinted windows zip in and out of the posh Broadway hotel in the capital.

Some distance away in central Budgam, about 7 km from the capital, the cynosure of all eyes is a house that has been turned into a virtual fortress. It is the residence of chief ministerial aspirant Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the founder of the People’s Democratic Party.

The most precious “political commodity” in the aftermath of the fractured mandate — seven Independents — are housed at the Grand Palace hotel that nestles in the foothills of the Zabarwan hills and overlooks the Dal Lake.

Once the residence of Kashmir’s Dogra Maharaja, the hotel is playing host to the Independent legislators who hold the key to government formation. “I now realise how important these seven are. There is a VIP visiting them every hour,” said an employee of the state’s costliest luxury hotel.

With the race for the hot seat entering its final lap, the most watched political power-centre is, however, hotel Broadway, once the favourite haunt of Bollywood stars and foreign tourists. Most of the 20 newly elected Congress MLAs, including chief ministerial candidate Ghulam Nabi Azad, are lodged here with their supporters.

Luxury cars ferry scores of visitors and speed away after dropping them inside. Security personnel manning the bunker on the road that leads to hotel and the heavily-guarded MLAs’ hostel nearby allow people in without a fuss if their destination is hotel Broadway.

Close comrades of Mufti can also be seen sitting in the lawn near the hotel swimming pool talking to Congress MLAs. When Azad appeared on the ground floor this afternoon, scores of partymen rushed to whisper something in his ear. “I hope he will finally join us,” Azad asked one of them, who replied: “Yes, I am in touch with him. We don’t have to worry.”

Wherever Azad went, the crowd followed. “By tomorrow afternoon, all the workers must vacate the hotel and only our MLAs should stay back. The hotel management is facing problems attending to so many,” he told senior leaders. “I have not been able to talk to my newly elected members. We have to work seriously. We have to concentrate.”

If Azad is keeping his flock together, so are Mufti and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. PDP sources say all the 16 elected candidates are lodged in Mufti’s heavily guarded Nowgam residence, where more paramilitary troops were deployed after the visit of the state police chief, who was among the first to meet the former Union home minister.

Mufti and Mehbooba are taking good care of their guests. They are also keeping close watch on them so that they “don’t fall prey to the poaching designs of the rivals” who are reportedly on the prowl to split the PDP to reach the magic number of 44 in the 87-member Assembly.

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