The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti casts net for Omar restive ranks

Jammu, Jan. 5: The People’s Democratic Party has started eating into rival National Conference’s support base by poaching on its members.

The PDP is luring National Conference leaders and workers with the promise of ensuring political recognition for them, something they have been craving for.

The PDP today welcomed to its fold Zulfikar Ali, a prominent National Conference leader of Darhal, Rajouri, along with his supporters.

For a party trying to get a foothold in the Jammu region, this is a big boost.

The National Conference, now headed by Omar Abdullah, had denied Zulfikar a ticket in the recent Assembly polls, despite a passionate plea from his minister-of-state father, Choudhary Mohammad Hussain.

Hussain had resigned in protest. He died a few weeks ago after a bout of illness. Hussain’s legacy, though, lives on in the constituency that he represented four times. His son, Zulfikar, is now considered a potential leader there.

Many others from the National Conference are also on the PDP target list. The party has marked former agriculture minister Nissar Ahmad and former MLA Sadiq Ali as among those who are likely to join it soon.

“You will see many more National Conference leaders joining us,” PDP vice-president Mehbooba Mufti said. She even let drop a few names, among which Sadiq Ali and Ahmad figured prominently.

Her statement has nearly confirmed the rumour that has been in circulation in political circles for some time now.

Despite bagging the chief ministership and Congress support, the PDP feels itself vulnerable with only 15 MLAs, one less after the assassination of Pampore MLA Abdul Aziz Mir two weeks ago.

The party is apparently desperate to expand its political base. It knows much cannot be gained by splitting the Congress. So dividing the National Conference is the only option.

The Congress cannot be touched because it has strong roots in Jammu, where the PDP’s ideology, including its perceived softness towards militants, is unpopular.

The PDP also does not want to push the Congress into a corner, where it could foment trouble in the coalition government.

So the National Conference, with bases in many Muslim-dominated regions, has become the main target.

“We are targeting that (the National Conference base),” a senior PDP leader said.

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