New Delhi, Oct. 14: The Congress has taken a calculated risk in pushing Ghulam Nabi Azad for the chief minister’s post in Jammu and Kashmir on a premise that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will blink first.
Apart from a personality clash, Sonia Gandhi and her advisers were wary of some of the components Mufti Mohammad Sayeed sought to include in the common minimum programme.
The Congress had strong reservations about Mufti’s offer for “unconditional talks” with Pakistan and proposals for an accountability commission against the Abdullahs and dismantling the Special Operations Group.
The Congress feels that a government headed by a Congressman would enhance the party’s stature. The move will help the party project itself as a “government-in-waiting” at the Centre.
The Congress’ priorities are to keep its flock together, get as many independent MLAs on its side as possible and wait for cracks to develop in either the National Conference or the PDP.
As a last resort, the party is open to the idea of the Assembly being put under suspended animation for a brief while. The party feels that this would help calm tempers and improve the chances of a breakthrough in talks with the PDP.
However, not everyone in the Congress is convinced. Some fear that in case the party fails to cobble together a coalition, it would be accused of “playing politics” in the sensitive border state.
It was for this reason that Sonia avoided taking a decision against Mufti and chose to place the ball in party MLAs’ court.
“We had tough decisions to make. We understand the logic of having a chief minister from the Valley. But at the same time, as head of the Congress, Sonia could not disregard the regional aspirations of party MLAs from Jammu,” a Congress Working Committee member said.
There was a view in the Congress that it would be better placed to deal with the Vajpayee regime if the party had its own nominee as chief minister. “There was a fear that if Mufti goes too fast and gets too radical, the Congress would have to pay the price in the rest of India,” the CWC member said.
He added that Mufti’s claim to form the government was given due consideration. The Congress leader said that till the very end, Sonia had an open mind on the issue. However, she gave up when some senior AICC leaders emphasised the need to protect the aspirations of party MLAs.
The Kashmir parleys also witnessed a sideshow involving an intense power struggle within the Congress. A section of AICC office-bearers worked overtime to ensure that Azad stays in Kashmir.
The push came from those who viewed Azad as a threat when he was AICC general secretary. These leaders had played a key role in sending him to Jammu and Kashmir as party chief.
But another group wanted to bring Azad back to Delhi to keep the heat on Ambika Soni, Ahmad Patel and Mukul Wasnik, who are fast emerging as Sonia’s “eyes and ears”.
Thus, for three days, Azad became a “football” with one set of Sonia advisers trying to keep him away from Delhi and the other camp trying hard to ensure that he was not sent on “mission Kashmir”.