The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Former PMs at Mufti door for coalition

New Delhi, Oct. 24: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and People’s Democratic Party chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed are still keen to clinch a deal that may see both sides making adjustments to form a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir.

Since yesterday, hectic behind-the-scene activities involving P.V. Narasimha Rao, V.P. Singh, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, I.K. Gujral and a galaxy of political and apolitical players have ensured that the two sides narrow their differences considerably.

The leaders called up Mufti, urging him to “look afresh” and keep the broader national interest in mind.

The Congress is not averse to accepting supremacy of the Kashmir valley if the two sides agree to share the chief ministership on rotation. In such a scenario, even if Mufti concedes the post to the Congress, state unit chief Ghulam Nabi Azad will be a loser as he is from Kishtwar in Jammu.

A section of the Congress feels the party will be better off propping up Mehbooba Mufti instead of picking a little known leader for the coveted post. They said the gesture would project Sonia as a “statesman” and highlight the Congress’ “sagacity” and sense of sacrifice.

In exchange, the Congress will expect the PDP to soften its stand on talks with militants and Pakistan, and disbanding of the counter-insurgency special operations group.

Mufti has reportedly assured that he will protect Congress interests.

Officially, the Congress has not given up on Azad and would like Mehbooba to work as deputy chief minister in a Congress-led government.

Privately, party leaders said if Azad, recently elected Congress Legislature Party leader, is denied the top post, he will be accommodated in the party secretariat as general secretary.

In addition, he will get another term in the Rajya Sabha. Azad’s term is ending on November 18 this year.

The Azad camp is, however, counting on the “collective will” of the party MLAs in his favour. The Panther’s Party with four MLAs has extended “conditional support” that it would back a Congress-led government and not the PDP.

The Congress’ chief negotiator, Manmohan Singh, today said his party was hopeful of sorting out problems with the PDP. Asked whether a new formula has been evolved to resolve he stalemate, the former finance minister said: “I am always optimistic. One has to be optimistic while dealing with the problems of the country at large.”

Manmohan said the PDP’s gesture of returning to the negotiating table was not a “climbdown”.

“I don’t like these words whether we will climb up or climb down. We will resume the threads where I left,” he said.

At present, nobody is talking about the possibility of a continuing deadlock or the Congress staking claim on its own.

As a senior Congress leader said: “When we can do business with the PDP, why should we further complicate the complex nature of Kashmir’s problem.”

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