The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India 2, Pakistan 0

Srinagar/New Delhi, Oct. 10: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s allies, the Abdullahs, were thrown out of power after five decades of domination, his party, the BJP, was swept off Jammu and his enemy, the Congress, had increased its tally of states from 14 to 15.

Yet, Vajpayee was rejoicing as the results of the Jammu and Kashmir elections reached him in Copenhagen. “The people of Jammu and Kashmir have given their verdict. And the winner clearly is India’s democracy,” he said.

And the win was even more sweet because it came on a day a military dictatorship was holding stage-managed elections in Pakistan.

With all results for the 87-member Assembly out, it looked clear that the Congress — the second largest party after the National Conference (NC) — would form a government along with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of former home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed with support from smaller parties and the large contingent of independents, among whom there are several members of separatist groups.

The separatist umbrella organisation, the Hurriyat Conference, and its constituents had officially boycotted the polls, but some of their members contested the elections as independents.

The Congress-PDP combine, with 36 seats, already has the committed support of seven members from smaller parties, which takes it to just one short of the majority mark of 44.

It was not clear who the chief minister would be, but as the largest party in the group the Congress would obviously have the first call. Ghulam Nabi Azad led the Congress campaign in the election, emerging as an unlikely hero because he was most unhappy when he was made state party chief, and is a candidate for chief ministership.

Mehbooba Mufti, who led the PDP in the elections, appeared to have stepped aside from the race, possibly clearing room for her father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

“We have a galaxy of leaders for the post. It is not necessary that Mehbooba Mufti should be the next chief minister,” the 40-year-old, who won from Pahalgam, said.

Her NC counterpart, Omar Abdullah, whose grandfather and father have ruled Jammu and Kashmir for the better part of its history, was preparing for a stint in the wilderness. “I am ready to sit in Opposition,” Omar said after losing his Ganderbal seat, a family bastion.

The NC has ended up with a miserable 28 seats, way below the commanding majority it held in the outgoing House. Several other top leaders also lost, including another member of the dynasty, Omar’s uncle, Mustafa Kamal, who lost in Gulmarg.

His father Farooq Abdullah, whose extravagant lifestyle had made him deeply unpopular, said on return from South Africa that Omar would stay on as head of the party. “These things happen. Omar is a young man. He has to go through a lot more trauma in his life,” he said.

In the Muslim-dominated Valley, it was the NC that was singed by the people’s long-building wrath and in Hindu-majority Jammu, its friend, the BJP, was ground to dust, winning only one seat.

Travelling in Mathura, Sonia Gandhi, whose party gained at the BJP’s cost, expressed happiness that the Congress would be adding Jammu and Kashmir as the 15th state to its kitty. For the first time in more than two decades, the Congress is coming to power in the state.

A beaming Ghulam Nabi Azad, who reluctantly took over in March as the state Congress president, and Muzaffar Hussain Beg, the PDP vice-president, indicated they were close to finalising arrangements for a coalition government.

“The Congress and the PDP complement each other,” Beg said. “They (Congress) represent the Jammu region and we represent the Kashmir Valley. There will be greater regional co-operation,” he added.

PDP and Congress leaders are meeting tomorrow. Unlike the NC-BJP alliance, which had similar regional strengths, they appeared to be starting off the blocks, if not with the blessing of the separatists, then at least without their curse.

Dismissive about the elections from the beginning, the Hurriyat said the results were a “vote against the Central government” and hoped that the parties emerging victorious would “live up to their promises” made during campaigning.

PDP leader Mehbooba said her party stood for unconditional dialogue with separatists and added that even Sonia Gandhi had advocated it during her campaign. )

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