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STALEMATE

The political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir is cause for anxiety. The gains made by the holding of free and fair elections could be lost if the stalemate continues much further. It is vital, therefore, that the Congress and the Peopleís Democratic Party rise above their partisan interests and establish a coalition government as soon as possible. The political crisis is rooted in the hung legislative assembly that followed the recent polls. Although the National Conference emerged as the single largest party, it was well short of a majority. The electoral verdict was clearly a mandate against the National Conference government, and both Mr Farooq Abdullah, the outgoing chief minister, and Mr Omar Abdullah, the president of the party, initially indicated that they would not stake a claim to forming the government. The only real choice was for the majority of the non-National Conference legislators to form a coalition government. The problem, however, is that the two main parties, the PDP and the Congress, cannot arrive at an understanding about power-sharing, and are at loggerheads over who should become chief minister.

The Congress has won a larger number of seats than the PDP and believes that it should lead the government. As a national party, the Congress also feels that it may be in a better position to address the problems in the state. The state Congress chief, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, has brought about a remarkable transformation in the partyís fortunes, and would feel let down if he were not given the chance to lead the government. But the PDP has emerged, after the National Conference, the strongest party in the Kashmir valley. It rightly argues that the real problems of the state are located in Kashmir, and it would send a wrong message to the electorate if a party that was mostly dominant in Jammu headed the coalition. Moreover, Mr Azad himself is also from the Doda district of Jammu, and has never won an election from the state.

To complicate matters, the smaller parties and groups, which get disproportionate influence in a hung legislature, are voicing their own independent opinions. For instance, the Pantherís Party, which has won four seats in the new assembly, has declared that it would support a coalition government only if the chief minister was from Jammu. And since the PDP and the Congress could not come to a resolution by October 17, governorís rule has now been imposed. The assembly will now be activated once any party or group of parties can prove that it has the support of the majority of the members of the legislature. In short, the situation is messy and getting even messier. The irony is that the Congress and the PDP seem to have few differences over a common minimum programme. Hopefully, Mr Manmohan Singh, the former finance minister, who has now been dispatched to Srinagar by the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, to help resolve differences, will make the two sides see sense and realize that it would be a tragedy if personal egos and private ambitions destroyed the historic mandate delivered by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

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