The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia sets up CMs’ date with Valley

New Delhi, May 14: Sonia Gandhi has decided to hold the next conclave of Congress chief ministers in Srinagar, in a step intended to send out the message that Kashmir is returning to normality.

The Congress president revealed the plan to bring together 15 chief ministers and top party leaders in the Jammu and Kashmir capital yesterday during her visit to Rajasthan.

The formal announcement was made today by party spokesperson Anand Sharma, who said the meeting would be held on May 30-31.

The choice of venue surprised many party leaders who were expecting the fifth conclave to be held in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh or in Maharashtra. General secretary Ambika Soni, who left for Srinagar late this evening to prepare for the event, confirmed the decision was Sonia’s.

The Congress president had consulted Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on Monday.

Sonia was the first important national leader to address rallies in Kashmir in over a decade when she campaigned in the October Assembly elections. Now, by leading her chief ministers to the Valley, Sonia perhaps wants to demonstrate to the rest of the country that travel to Kashmir is no longer unthinkable.

As the Congress prepares for next year’s general election, Sonia will seek to convey the message that the PDP-Congress coalition in Srinagar is bringing back peace and normality to the border state.

The conclave, which follows meetings in Guhawati and Mount Abu last year, comes a few months ahead of the November Assembly polls in Congress-ruled Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

With Sonia emphasising on good governance and development, a review of the performance of Congress governments, particularly in the election-bound states, is likely. “The areas of strength of the Congress governments in these states would be identified and discussed so that they can be highlighted in the run-up to the elections,” sources said.

In the last four conclaves, specific strengths of Congress governments were identified for replication by others. In view of the advantages perceived from the earlier exercises, Sonia has decided to hold the conclave once every six months. The exercise has made the chief ministers accountable to the party chief on the performance of their governments.

Asked about the reason for holding the meet in Srinagar, Sharma said: “Sometimes the reasons are not stated, they are obvious. In any case, Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.”

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