The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Azad to take over Kashmir reins

New Delhi, Oct. 27: Ghulam Nabi Azad will take over from Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, the Congress has announced.

Party general secretary Ambika Soni made the announcement at a hurried news conference tonight, ending speculation that Mufti would continue at least for another year. “Ghulam Nabi Azad will be sent to Kashmir as the chief minister,” she said.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi today spoke to Mufti and his daughter Mehbooba, who is also the head of the People’s Democratic Party, over phone to inform them that the change of guard would take place on November 2, as planned in 2002.

Both assured Sonia of full “support and cooperation,” Soni said.

In Srinagar, Mufti chose not to react. “I would not like to make any comments now,” he said, adds PTI.

After the elections in 2002, the Congress and the PDP formed a coalition government with the understanding that each party would get a three-year term at the helm. Although the Congress had more seats and Azad was the favourite to become chief minister, Sonia had given the PDP the first turn.

But her decision to take over the reins, announced after five days of consultations with senior colleagues, state Congress leaders and the two top PDP leaders, still came as a surprise because Mufti is believed to have been assured of a year’s extension during their meeting on Sunday. Speculation in political circles here was that he had turned down the offer, insisting on a full six-year term instead.

Azad met Sonia soon after she made up her mind to send him as chief minister. Speaking to newsmen after the meeting, he said the new government will continue to support the peace process with Pakistan. On his agenda of governance for the next three years, the Union urban development minister said his first priority was to provide relief and rehabilitation to people affected by the October 8 earthquake.

“Kashmir is not child’s play where I can spell out my priorities so soon. But yes, the peace process requires to be strengthened. We will take all parties, from within and outside the government, to strengthen it,” he said.

When they called him up later, Mufti told Azad and Soni that he would demit office on November 2 when his three-year term ends and that the Congress leader should take over the same day.

Soni expressed confidence that in accordance with the “pattern of coalition” agreed upon by the two parties in 2002, the PDP will take over the deputy chief minister’s slot from the Congress.

Azad refused to be drawn into speculation about differences with Mufti over the power transfer, saying he had been promised “whole-hearted” support.

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