The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia gifts crown to Mufti
- Congress gets deputy and three-year wait for CM

New Delhi, Oct. 26: Sonia Gandhi today sacrificed the aspirations of her party in the larger interests of the people, hoisting Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

Ending a fortnight of suspense over government formation, the Congress president conceded she had overruled several CWC members and chief ministers to decide in favour of the People’s Democratic Party. Ironically, the PDP had been formed after Mufti and his daughter Mehbooba walked out of the Congress, protesting against Sonia’s “indifferent attitude” towards their state.

Moved by Sonia’s gesture, the PDP agreed to dilute some radical provisions in its manifesto. In the Common Minimum Programme signed by the parties, both agreed to pick a deputy chief minister from Jammu, most likely to be Mangat Ram Sharma of the Congress.

The posts of both the chief minister and his deputy will be held on a rotational basis for three years. Mufti will occupy the hot seat for the first three years after which his Congress deputy is expected to take over.

Mufti also agreed not to include the contentious issue of disbanding the Special Operations Group in the CMP. But the programme talks about respecting human rights and punishing violators.

Talks with militants will be held within the framework of the Indian Constitution. The greater autonomy issue will be sorted out in accordance with the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975.

Sources close to Sonia said she settled on Mufti hoping he would be able to break the Hurriyat’s hegemony and bring Kashmiris back into the mainstream. Repeatedly stressing on the “larger interests” of the people, Sonia recalled a commitment she made at a Srinagar public meeting that she would “do everything to resolve pain and suffering”.

Several political and apolitical persons are believed to have played a key role in egging Sonia to rise above party considerations. Among them were former prime ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral as well as Arjun Singh, Manmohan Singh, M.L. Fotedar, R.K. Dhawan and senior bureaucrats from the Kashmir cadre.

But not all in the Congress were happy, including chief ministerial also-ran Ghulam Nabi Azad. He is now set to get a Rajya Sabha berth and the post of general secretary in the AICC. Azad is likely to quit as legislature party leader and probably as state Congress chief as he is not on the best of terms with Mufti. His return to the AICC will kick off a power struggle among those claiming to be close to Sonia.

Sonia and Mufti said the government’s first priority would be to provide a healing touch to the Kashmiris. “We have decided to give Mufti sahib a chance in the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We are determined to see that the aspirations and hopes of the people are fulfilled,” Sonia said.

A pleased Mufti said: “We have decided to unite and there is common concern among all of us. Together this is the golden opportunity provided to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.”


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