The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia tilts to minority govt

New Delhi, Oct. 22: A statement from Mehbooba Mufti today virtually sunk the possibility of a coalition between the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir, forcing Sonia Gandhi to begin the countdown for staking claim to form a “minority government”.

Sonia, who was in favour of seeking more time to work on the PDP, changed her mind after Mehbooba said in Srinagar that the PDP is “ready to sacrifice power and sit in the opposition if our demands are not accepted by the Congress”. Talks between the Congress and the PDP have been deadlocked over who would lead the coalition.

Mehbooba’s afternoon statement was made available to Sonia, who was in Uttar Pradesh during the day, at the fag end of the Congress Working Committee session this evening. The meeting was then extended to assess the situation and most leaders felt that the PDP was no longer a prospective ally.

A final decision has, however, been left to Sonia, who will have another round of meeting with Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni and Manmohan Singh tomorrow morning.

But Sonia did not give the green signal to an overenthusiastic Azad to split either the PDP or the National Conference. She feels the party should first focus on securing Governor G.C. Saxena’s invitation to run a “minority government”.

However, Azad, the Congress’ choice for chief minister, and his supporters are confident that the moment the party stakes claim, 42 MLAs would declare their support.

The Azad camp is also pinning hopes on the possibility of winning over a section of the PDP leaders, including a vice-president.

Some CWC members said a split in the National Conference would be a better option. Azad, whose party now has 20 seats, feels that within a month, the number of legislators supporting the Congress would cross 50 in the House of 87.

Sonia sought the views of almost all the members present today but did not air hers. Some Congress leaders attached significance to the circumspection, saying she could still be weighing the pros and cons of forming a Congress government.

However, those in the Azad camp believe that Sonia would ask him to stake claim soon. Their calculations are based on two premises. First, they are confident that the Governor would invite the Congress sooner than later.

The Congress is also reasonably confident that Farooq Abdullah would not be a spoiler and that he might prefer a Congress government to the PDP.

Those favouring a Congress-led government told Sonia that a “national party” was best equipped to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

“The state has been run by a regional party for the last 27 years but the problems have escalated,” a CWC member said.

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