| Farooq Abdullah inaugurates a golf tournament in Srinagar on Thursday. Asked about the future of his party, he said: “Ask me something about golf.” (AFP)
Srinagar, Oct. 17: Jammu and Kashmir was brought under Governor’s rule at midnight, seven days after the results of the first free and fair elections in decades kindled hopes of a new chapter in the state.
Brushing aside appeals over the phone by both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, their unpredictable ally Farooq Abdullah refused to be caretaker chief minister and forced Governor G.C. Saxena to activate a constitutional takeover that the Centre wanted to avoid at any cost.
Officials close to Saxena and political parties racing against time to cobble together a coalition in the hung Assembly insisted that Governor’s rule was a temporary phase that would end as soon as any group was ready to form a government.
Mirroring Delhi’s eagerness to instal a popular government in the state, the Governor had yesterday extended to Monday afternoon the deadline for staking claim to form a government. The Vajpayee government was keen to ensure that domestic political squabbling did not fritter away the gains of the elections before the international community.
Even if Governor’s rule lasts only for a brief while, the Centre is now vulnerable to potshots from across the border that the state had to be ruled by a former intelligence official — Saxena is an ex-chief of RAW — despite free and fair elections.
With the tenure of the current Assembly expiring tonight and Abdullah refusing to relent, the Governor had little option, the officials said.
But political circles were intrigued why Saxena did not invite either the Congress or the People’s Democratic Party — the principal contenders to power —to form a government and ask them to prove majority later.
Farooq, whose party and son fared miserably at the hustings, seized the moral high ground this morning, saying he had “forfeited” the right to continue as a caretaker.
The National Conference leader, however, said he could not take a final decision until the Governor responded. The Governor did so and requested Abdullah to continue as caretaker chief minister. But Abdullah, whose relationship with the BJP had worsened as the polls approached, said he would decide after discussions with his party.
As the state lurched towards a constitutional crisis, Abdullah managed to squeeze in an inauguration of a golf tournament, which was originally supposed to be opened by the Governor. Abdullah’s passion for the game and the good life has in no small measure contributed to crystallising his image as a political playboy.
Around 7 pm, Abdullah met his colleagues. The decision to stick to his resolve was made public only around 9 pm, but it was not known when the Governor was informed.
Abdullah also tried to fish in troubled waters by saying earlier he was not averse to supporting from the outside a group of Independents who floated a front to form a government.