The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress fights shy of Valley minefield

New Delhi, Oct. 23: Sonia Gandhi’s continuing reluctance to go ahead alone in Jammu and Kashmir is the manifestation of her thinking that governance in this sensitive state is nothing short of a political minefield.

Although virtually the entire Congress Working Committee favoured the idea of the party staking a claim yesterday, the Congress chief was silent. She was mulling the roadmap ahead and the political repercussions of such an action.

In the end, she developed cold feet, vetoed the CWC and sought more time, resulting in the possibility of another round of talks with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Today, when Mehbooba Mufti called her, Sonia seized the opportunity for renegotiations, much to the dislike of Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Regional aspirations and pressure from the local party unit have added to Sonia’s woes. While the AICC chief is not keen to resort to horse-trading, she does not want to get the blame of denying the Congress the “right” to govern the 15th state in the country.

Senior leaders said much of Sonia’s problem was about the future even if a “minority” government headed by the Congress comes in place. The AICC chief is not clear if a shaky and unstable Congress would be able to address the Kashmir problem properly in the wake of a hostile Central government, stiff opposition from within the state, international pressure and the sheer complexity of the issues involved, party sources said.

The sources added that though any progress on the lines of Punjab, Assam or Mizoram would enhance Sonia’s stature at the national level, if a Congress-led government failed to deliver, it could pose a great obstacle in projecting her as the future prime minister.

With political uncertainty looming large over Delhi, Sonia has neither the luxury to falter nor to seek more time.

Thus, unlike Azad’s enthusiasm, Sonia has a pragmatic approach towards Kashmir. On the one hand, she is alive to the issue of fulfilling the aspirations of the Kashmiris, opening a dialogue with militants and embark on a relief and rehabilitation programme in the Valley. On the other, Sonia is conscious of the delicate Centre-state relations and the ideological divide between the Congress and the BJP on key policy matters, the sources pointed out.

For the first time in many years, the AICC chief has come face to face with CWC members who do not share her concerns. For most senior leaders, Kashmir is being seen in the narrow context of gaining another state and asserting the primacy of the Congress at the national level.

10 Janpath insiders said that from Day 1, Sonia viewed Kashmir in a different manner, much to the dismay of Azad and many others. Her choice of Manmohan Singh as the pointman for Kashmir was also not without significance.

Manmohan has a standing in the US and Europe, who are keeping a close watch on the developments in the Valley. The signal to western powers is that Sonia means business and in a state like Kashmir, she had fielded her best lieutenant who is not a conventional politician.

The delay and continuous dialogue when everything seemed like over is also aimed at strengthening Sonia’s credentials as a “statesman” who has a ability to look beyond party interests.

Although eventually Sonia may have to go along with Azad’s prescription, her policy to “wait and watch” and exhaust opponents is a firm indication of the emergence of the “politician Sonia”.

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