Fresh from polls, Jammu and Kashmir enters political stalemate
14 October 2002
The Indian Express
Srinagar: A battle of attrition began on Monday over government formation in Jammu and Kashmir between the Congress and PDP with each party insisting on Chief Ministership for itself. As governor G C Saxena began exploratory consultations on government formation, Congress came out in favour of heading the coalition with PDP, whose chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on Sunday demanded that his party should head the government. ''Congress is in favour of heading the new government as it is a national party and could play a more positive role in restoring peace in the state'', PCC president and chief ministerial candidate Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters after he was elected as leader of the CLP here. Following Sayeed''s demand on Sunday the Congress high command despatched three observers to ascertain the views of newly-elected MLAs on the PDP demand. The MLAs are understood to be of the view that Congress should head the government. Asserting that the Congress was in a better position to rectify ''past mistakes'' and to muster support from across the country and in Parliament, Azad, however, parried a question whether the question of support to PDP heading the government was ruled out. In a sharp reaction to the Congress stand, PDP''s vice president Mehbooba Mufti said the chief minister should be from her party. ''We will not compromise on our agenda and promises we have made to the people of Kashmir. If the chief minister is not from our party, who will implement the promises we have made,'' she told reporters after a meeting of newly elected MLAs of her party. Azad, a non-MLA whose election as CLP leader is seen as Congress'' message to PDP that it was keen on his heading the government, said after meeting the governor that his MLAs were keen that the chief ministership should rest with the party. ''The question of chief ministership should not be seen as a prestige point,'' he said adding a replacement for National Conference should be by a national party like Congress which has 14 states under its belt and was the recognised Opposition in both the houses of Parliament that could take up the interests of Jammu and Kashmir. He said he did not see any problem in evolving a CMP for the coalition. Mehbooba said Congress should understand that the mandate was against National Conference and people wanted to see a PDP government in the state. She asked the Congress to understand the fact that it was the people of Kashmir valley who had been suffering for last 12 years and, therefore, it was mandatory for PDP to lead a government. ''We will sacrifice power but not compromise on our principles,'' Mehbooba said. Indicating that there were some differences on a CMP to guide the Congress and PDP coalition, she said there had been some areas of disagreement but the options are not closed as yet and the final word to this effect lies in the hands of party president Mufti Sayeed. She refused to comment on the election of Azad as CLP leader. Stating that the agenda of the party was very important for it, Mehbooba said that political parties thinking of providing an alternative to NC must rise above partisan lines and support PDP which fought the NC in the Valley. She said the issue of chief minister was ''regionalised'' by Congress ignoring the fact that it was the people of Kashmir who had been alienated for the last 12 years. ''The mandate in the just-concluded elections is clearly in favour of PDP and there is no point debating over the issue as to who would be the next chief minister,'' she said and added ''it has to be our chief minister who will fulfill the agenda of our party and bring respite to the people.'' To a question whether this deadlock would not help NC, she said ''we don''t mind sitting in Opposition but let me make it amply clear that there will be no compromise on the agenda''. Meanwhile, the four-member Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and offered to support a Congress-led coalition if the chief minister belonged to the Jammu region, which Azad does. Otherwise, the Congress should support a Panthers Party-headed coalition government, he told reporters. Earlier in the day, NC president Omar Abdullah put in his resignation as Minister of State for External Affairs. He said that the PM was yet to decide on accepting it. Omar made it clear that his party was not pulling out of the NDA grouping. Before that, he also met the J-K Governor and discussed government formation with him in Srinagar.