The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong turns up heat

Srinagar, Oct. 14: The Congress today declared that it would form the next government in Jammu and Kashmir, but left the formal bid to be made tomorrow.

State Congress president Ghulam Nabi Azad drove to Raj Bhavan to meet Governor G.C. Saxena immediately after being elected legislature party leader.

The Congress claims to have the support of 41 legislators, but the numbers still appear uncertain. The horsetrading that started immediately after the election intensified when talks on an alliance between the People’s Democratic Party and the Congress dragged on. The rumour in Srinagar puts the price of an Independent at Rs 1 crore.

So far, six Independents from Jammu have joined the Congress while three from the Valley have offered support. Four Panthers Party MLAs have promised issue-based support and the two CPM members are behind the Congress. But all this still leaves the party well short of the majority mark of 44. Some Independents have, however, pledged to remain neutral if the Governor asks Azad to prove his majority.

Sources in the Congress and the PDP said differences over ideology were blocking an alliance, but the real reason was competing claims to the chief minister’s chair.

The PDP said it would sit in the opposition rather than compromise on its agenda. “The PDP defeated the National Conference and deserved to get the chief minister’s post. The Valley is where the maximum amount of atrocities were inflicted on the people and Kashmiris came out in large numbers to vote us in so that we can give them the healing touch. A Congress government’s installation would mean betrayal of the people’s trust,” Qazi Afzal, the man who defeated National Conference president Omar Abdullah, said.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the PDP chief, held a meeting of the party where the majority preferred sitting in the opposition to joining a coalition headed by the Congress.

Some PDP sources said the Congress was against talks with separatists but the other side refuted this argument, saying that Sonia Gandhi had declared during her visit to Srinagar that her party stood for “unconditional talks with all sections of people”.

“If the BJP government at the Centre wants to begin talks with separatists, why should we oppose such a move' This is a canard being spread by the PDP,” Taj Mohi-ud-din, a senior Congress leader, said.

The PDP’s main argument against having Azad as chief minister rests on the history of the state, which has never been ruled by a leader from Jammu.


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