The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi prefers Cong in Valley

New Delhi, Oct. 20: The Centre and the BJP would like a Congress-People’s Democratic Party coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir rather than one led by the National Conference, said well-placed BJP sources.

Between the Congress and the PDP, they would prefer that the Congress head the coalition, even if that reinforced the message that the BJP was losing base and the Congress gaining its national pre-eminence.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has already indicated his preference for a popular government, though Farooq Abdullah’s refusal to continue as caretaker chief minister has forced the imposition of Governor’s Rule. But rather than allow the NC to “tinker” around with smaller parties and unattached legislators, the Centre and the BJP are hoping that the Congress and the PDP get their act together fast.

The reason for the collective preference is that “Jammu and Kashmir is too sensitive to be tampered with by the Centre”.

“The past experiments with meddling around with the political establishment in Srinagar and getting a puppet regime installed proved to be costly. They are the root cause of the present-day problems. The Centre should not engineer anything this time and instead give the parties the space to figure out their own configurations,” said sources.

But the “configurations” talked about should “ideally” exclude the NC, sources felt. “It may have emerged as the single largest party, but there is a clear undercurrent against the NC. The BJP did not expect them to get this kind of drubbing,” they said.

A non-NC government would suit the BJP in other ways, too, say sources. It would do away with the embarrassment of having to defend an NDA constituent each time there was a terrorist strike or some other law and order problem. Without the NC on its back, the state BJP unit would get the “space” to try and get back the Hindu votes in Jammu that went to the Congress this time.

The BJP’s assessment is that it would be a “matter of time” before the Hindus got “disillusioned” with the Congress if it struck an alliance with the PDP that was “soft” on the separatists.

But BJP sources admitted that the Centre could not shrug off the prospective Jammu and Kashmir dispensation and score only political brownie points. “The law and order sector is as much the Centre’s problem as the state’s,” said sources. From this point of view, they added that a Congress-led dispensation would suit the Centre better than one headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed or his daughter, Mehbooba.

“The Congress views on autonomy and talks with the militants are conservative and match the BJP’s,” they said. The PDP, they point out, is yet an “untested” entity.

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