The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress pins hope on hung House in J&K

New Delhi, Sept. 16: The Congress may have named Ghulam Nabi Azad as its chief ministerial candidate for Jammu and Kashmir but it has modest aims, including strengthening “democratic forces” in the state.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is yet to hold a public meeting in the state and there is a question mark on whether she would be able to campaign at all in view of security considerations.

Most Congress chief ministers and the Congress Working Committee have also refrained from visiting the state. There is acute paucity of funds and shortage of publicity material.

The AICC’s Kashmir committee, comprising Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Ahmad Patel, Karan Singh, M.L. Fotedar, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, could not meet in the Valley even once, preferring to operate from Delhi.

According to the Congress, the “best scenario” would be a hung House. It is hoping to cross single digits in the 87-member Assembly and might strike a hard bargain with the National Conference if no party gets a decisive mandate.

Congress leaders handling Kashmir affairs said the party would support the National Conference provided it severs all links with the NDA. In the party’s view, the polls should not be merely seen in the context of winning or losing seats. “The issues involved have national and international ramifications,” AICC spokesman Jaipal Reddy said.

He said the party had a long and “distinguished” track record of upholding democratic traditions in the state despite threats and intimidation. “Our political workers have shown exemplary courage in overcoming all odds,” Reddy said, adding that participation in polls and ensuring popular participation was important.

Another party spokesman, Syed Sibtey Razi, who visited Jammu and Kashmir several times during the first phase of campaigning, said he was confident the party would do well.

“We are doing well in Jammu region, the Valley and in Leh and Kargil. We may turn the tables,” he said.

Razi said the Congress was hoping to play “kingmaker” if no political group or formation got a clear majority. He claimed his party’s tally might cross 20.

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