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Cong dilemma: young Omar or PDP

New Delhi, Dec. 29: The National Conference tonight remained the Congress’s “most favoured” option for an alliance, but a lobby was working for a tie-up with the People’s Democratic Party instead.

This camp cited media reports that said the PDP — which dumped the Ghulam Nabi Azad government during the Amarnath land row — had offered the chief minister’s post for either Saifuddin Soz or Azad, both Congress leaders.

The Congress’s “anti-National Conference” lobby, with Union minister Soz as its spearhead, used the NC’s announcement of the “inexperienced” Omar Abdullah as its chief minister candidate to try and sow doubt in Congress minds.

Neutral voices, however, said Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi respected the norm of “honouring” the mandate and going with the largest single party, which in this instance means the NC.

Omar, 39, who has arrived from Srinagar to meet Sonia, claimed his party had received “positive signals” from the Congress. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have come to Delhi. If the talks succeed, the coalition will probably be announced in a day or two,” he said.

A Congress source said Omar was not scheduled to meet Sonia tonight, adding: “We have to sort out certain issues.”

Sonia met Ahmed Patel, her political secretary, Prithviraj Chavan, the general secretary in charge of Jammu and Kashmir, Soz and Azad. Chavan said she was briefed on the poll results. “Nothing else was discussed,” he said.

The Congress’s internal meetings will continue tomorrow. Sonia is expected to meet Omar later.

There are two views within the Congress on Abdullah Junior. While some see his youth and “earnestness” as positive qualities, others wonder whether a “rookie” can handle a sensitive state like Kashmir. Omar was a junior minister in the NDA government.

The first worry is how well Omar can oversee the Unified Command — made up of the army, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force and state police — that formulates a co-ordinated response to insurgency. Second, he could have problems dealing with the governor, who enjoys a wider mandate than his counterparts in other states.

A source said: “The fear is that with a young chief minister at the helm, the governor may be tempted to be more pro-active than required in a well-intentioned way. He may play the father figure but end up upsetting the equation.”

Others feel Omar’s speech on secularism in Parliament before the trust vote, and the gravitas he exuded, should not be ignored. “He is serious and doesn’t trivialise issues, unlike Farooq,” a source said.

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