The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti, Delhi paper over differences

New Delhi, Dec. 2: Guest Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and host New Delhi played their roles to perfection today, skirting thorny issues on the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister’s maiden visit to the capital after assuming power.

But when Mufti reversed the roles and hosted an iftar — no longer the flavour of the season among the political class in Delhi — few Central leaders turned up.

The Centre was represented by Chaman Lal Sharma, the minister of state for defence from Jammu. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invited but could not attend.

Vajpayee, however, met Mufti at the Prime Minister’s house later in the evening and assured him of New Delhi’s support in governing Jammu and Kashmir.

The Congress, which shares power with Mufti, turned up in full strength, led by Sonia Gandhi, whose entry triggered a stampede of photographers. Finally, Mehbooba Mufti, her father and Sonia posed together for a photograph. Manmohan Singh, who laid the groundwork for the coalition, was there.

Mufti also met deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. “There is complete understanding between New Delhi and the state government over vital issues relating to Kashmir and negotiations with various Kashmiri groups,” the chief minister said after meeting Advani.

There was no hint from Mufti about the recent bitter exchanges between the state and the Centre over the release of political prisoners. Following the attack on the Raghunath temple, Advani had suggested that a screening committee be formed to vet prisoner’s release on a case-by-case basis. Mufti said the media had blown up the differences.

The chief minister said Vajpayee himself had called for a dialogue with elected representatives of the people as well as separatist groups, including the Hurriyat Conference.

However, Mufti admitted that his government needed time to settle down, indicating that talks are unlikely till the new government has had “time to create the ground conditions”.

“The people of Kashmir want peace with dignity and we want to adopt a multi-pronged approach. The healing touch will continue. This, combined with economic development and dialogue with New Delhi, is essential,” Mufti said.

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