The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mufti to be Sonia’s guest in Srinagar

New Delhi, May 22: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will be a guest at the Congress chief ministers' conclave in Srinagar next week. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister’s appearance is likely to be projected as a rebuff to the opposition National Conference, which has been trying to drive a wedge between the People’s Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the Congress.

A Congress source said Sonia Gandhi’s move to hold the conclave in Srinagar is aimed at showing that normality is returning to the state. It is equally aimed at signalling that she thinks the Mufti coalition is capable of ushering in peace.

Although Mufti heads the PDP, he was the first to have been consulted by Sonia over holding the conclave of 15 Congress chief ministers on May 30 and 31. Only after Mufti assured her of all help as host, did the Congress president announce the conclave last week. Many Congress leaders were taken aback by the choice of the venue since they expected the conclave to take place in a Congress-ruled state.

Mufti’s will be a significant presence at the conclave even though he will attend as a guest. “He is not invited to the conclave for the obvious reason that he is not a member of the Congress. But he is being invited to a dinner Sonia would be hosting for party chief ministers,” AICC general secretary in charge of Sonia’s office Ambika Soni said.

Soni said the Congress valued its alliance with the PDP, and added that the solidarity between the two parties would be evident at the conclave.

Sonia has invited deputy chief minister and legislature party leader Mangat Ram Sharma for the conclave. Also present will be senior Congress leader and chairman of the co-ordination committee for the ruling coalition, Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The conclave’s main purpose is to ensure better co-ordination between party chief ministers and help them pick up ideas for “good governance” from each other. Sonia believes previous conclaves have proved useful.

There are indications that Sonia intends to put governance in Jammu and Kashmir on the agenda at the conclave. It is not clear which challenges faced by the coalition government will come under the scanner.

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