The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ladies breathe life back into Kashmir talks

New Delhi/Srinagar, Oct. 23: Yesterday, it was Mehbooba the spoiler. Today, it was Mehbooba the facilitator.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader called Congress president Sonia Gandhi to say her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was willing to come to Delhi for another round of talks. Her nine-minute conversation revived the dying prospect of the Congress and the PDP making a joint expected bid for power in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mehbooba denied the statement — which had all but killed off possibilities of a coalition — attributed to her that the PDP would rather sit in the Opposition than make compromises with the Congress. In passing, she underlined her party’s desire to “do business” with the Congress, recalling her father’s association with the Nehru-Gandhi family.

PDP sources said pressures from within the party forced Mehbooba to speak to Sonia and break the deadlock.

Mufti will visit Delhi on Friday. Renewed efforts at an alliance have opened up the possibility of a compromise by way of rotational stints in the chief minister’s chair for the partners. In such a case, the PDP — possibly even Mehbooba because of the Congress’ reluctance to accept her father — could get the first shot. Such a deal is far from clinched, though.

Mufti will meet Sonia with a “fresh set of proposals” along with the formulae suggested by Congress negotiator Manmohan Singh that gave the PDP leader the choice of heading a coordination panel and keeping home and other key ministries in exchange for chief ministership.

A Sonia aide said: “We have an open mind. However, it does not mean that the Congress is going to give up its claim. What it means is that the issue of the Congress heading a shaky minority government is put on hold.”

The Congress was careful not to dub Mehbooba’s gesture a “climbdown”. A party functionary said: “The PDP has realised that there was little option but to join hands with the Congress. We welcome it.”

A PDP source even went to the extent of claiming that the two sides had almost resolved their differences. “I am confident that the Congress and the PDP have realised that their differences could only serve the political objectives of their rivals,” the source said.

Thrown into a tizzy now is Congress chief ministerial aspirant Ghulam Nabi Azad. After declaring yesterday that talks with the PDP were over, the otherwise media-friendly leader remained elusive throughout the day today. ( )

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