The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress mulls ministry minus Mufti

New Delhi, Oct. 18: The Congress today weighed the option of staking claim to form a “minority government” in Jammu and Kashmir after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed hardened his stand and Sonia Gandhi seemed reluctant to give a green signal to “horse-trading” in the sensitive border state.

Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Ghulam Nabi Azad tonight met Sonia and Congress Working Committee members to brief her about the political situation. Azad said about 40 legislators were willing to back him but the Governor wanted to see letters of support from 44 MLAs before formally inviting him to form the government. He said there was unanimity among Congress and its allies that the party should take the lead in ministry formation.

Azad said he would wait for a few more days before staking a claim to form a minority government. However, he was unsure about getting support either from the National Conference or Sayeed’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).

Some CWC members wanted to know if Governor Girish Saxena would entertain such a request as he would have to give first chance to the single largest party, the National Conference.

Informed sources said Sonia and the CWC were also divided on the crucial issue of seeking the National Conference’s support from outside. This follows a bitter campaign by the Congress against Farooq Abdullah, describing him as a “bad loser”.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy accused Abdullah of forcing Governor’s rule, but hoped it would be short-lived and a popular government would be installed at the earliest.

“Farooq Abdullah is displeased with people’s rejection of the National Conference. Apart from mere display of political wit, it is in fact a conspiracy to engineer instability even before the hung Assembly could provide a popular government,” Reddy said, criticising Abdullah’s decision not to continue as caretaker chief minister.

“It is important to note that he was the first outgoing chief minister in the democratic history of India who refused to serve as a caretaker chief minister in spite of the request by the Governor,” the spokesman underlined.

“The Congress is confident that Governor’s rule would not unduly upset its efforts to put a government in the state. It shall be our endeavour to form a popular government as quickly as possible,” Reddy said.

There was a view in the CWC that Azad should wait and watch before making the next move given the larger implications involved. The Congress team, led by Azad, returned from Srinagar today to brief the party chief about the political situation.

Before meeting Sonia, Azad appeared to be a picture of confidence. “A government will be formed shortly. Within a week,” he said. “We would like to settle the issue as soon as possible”.

For the record, Azad denied the possibility of horse-trading. “We are choosing not to take that route. We would like to take the PDP along. The option of having a deputy chief minister is still open,” he said.

Sources close to Sonia said she was disinclined to wean away MLAs so soon after the Assembly polls.

The Congress president is also against targeting the PDP.

A disappointed state Congress leader said: “It seems the Congress Working Committee (CWC) has more sympathy for Mufti Mohammed Sayeed than us.” Congress leaders denied the charge, arguing that Sonia was for probity in public life.

Another party leader said there were greater chances of breaking National Conference than the PDP. “We have feelers that a section of the National Conference can join hands. There are reasons for it. There is a feeling in the National Conference that Farooq Abdullah may not be around in state politics for too long and son Omar does not inspire confidence after his humiliating defeat in Ganderbal.”

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