Azad tries to isolate Mufti
18 October 2002
The Asian Age
Yusuf Jameel and Venkatesh Kesari
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir PCC chief Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Friday in Srinagar that he has already submitted a list of 40 supporting MLAs to governor Girish Chander Saxena. ''Iíll meet Mufti Sahib again, but it will take a couple of days more before a government is in place,'' he said. Any party or coalition needs a simple majority of 44 MLAs in the 87-member Assembly to form the new government. In New Delhi, the Congress high command decided to keep its MLAs and those of supporting parties and Independents together to isolate Mufti Muhammad Sayeedís party in the battle for power. After a meeting of the CWC with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday night, Mr Azad said his party had sought support from all legislators, barring those belonging to the National Conference, the PDP and the BJP. Mrs Gandhiís directive to us was that ''we should continue our efforts to consolidate our MLAs and those supporting us,'' Mr Azad said, without explaining how the Congress-led coalition could stake claim without the PDP MLAs. ''All of them, except the PDP, are ready to cooperate in the formation of government and efforts are on to persuade it,'' he said. Interestingly, the National Conference said on Friday it is very much in the race to form the new government. Its leader Farooq Abdullah had on Thursday said at a press conference, ''Why should I form a government. Let somebody else also take the tragedies the future is going to bring. Why should only I be the one to receive the boot from you and from the rest of the people? What for?'' A private television channel quoted NC president Omar Abdullah as saying, ''We are in touch with everybody, including the independents. We have certainly not closed our options. All doors are open for us.'' The CWC meeting in New Delhi lasted for about 90 minutes and was attended by Mr Arjun Singh, Mr Ahmed Patel, Mr R.K. Dhawan, Mr K. Natwar Singh, Ms Ambika Soni and Mr Azad. Speaking to reporters at his New Delhi residence, Mr Azad said: ''Our desire is to form government within a week.'' He added that his partyís offer of the deputy chief ministerís post to the PDP is still open. However, Mr Azad made it clear that the chief ministerís post is not negotiable. Mr Azad said the deadline of October 21 was no longer relevant after imposition of Governorís Rule which would be in place for a minimum of six months. ''But we wonít wait for months and we will try to form the government as soon as possible,'' he said. Asked whether the PDP would split, Mr Azad said: ''We are talking of uniting and not breaking.'' The Congress Legislative Party met in Srinagar on Friday and soon thereafter Mr Azad left for New Delhi to chalk out a new strategy with party president Sonia Gandhi. Mr Azad said the Fridayís meeting was attended by 20 Congress MLAs, four Panthersí Party MLAs and seven Independents. Mr Azad, while speaking at the CLP meet, hoped the PDP would ''respect the wishes of the people who had given their mandate against National Conference.'' ''Weíll appeal to the PDP not to make (government formation) a prestige issue and join the Congress in finding a way out. The party should realise and respect the peopleís wishes who had given their mandate for an anti-NC government,'' he added. Before leaving the Valley, the PCC chief said that the Congress wanted to see a government in the state at the earliest. The PDP, he said, should realise this and work with the Congress ''instead of making it a prestige issue.'' Mr Azad, however, did not say if the PDP had softened its stance on the issues, including on the choice of the chief minister. As for the Congress, its newly-elected MLAs and various party leaders both at Srinagar, Jammu and New Delhi are adamant that the top post must go to Mr Azad. The PDP, however, does not seem to be in a mood of compromise on the chief ministerís post. However, the two sides will hold discussions again when Mr Azad returns from New Delhi, the party sources said. Some Congress leaders and their possible allies in the Peoplesí Democratic Party see the Governorís Rule, necessitated by Dr Abdullahís refusal to continue as the caretaker chief minister, as a blessing is disguise. ''At least, there are no immediate deadlines set for throwing up a government and, therefore, we can work at ease now,'' said a PDP activist. High- profile PDP vice-president Muzaffar Hussain Beig termed the imposition of Governorís Rule as an ''expected'' move. He expressed hope that a government would be in place in the next few days. ''There is every hope that political parties will realise their responsibility and, respecting the verdict of the people, forge a political formation during the next couple of days and form a government,'' Mr Beig said. Some of his party colleagues are, however, learnt to be bitter over the development. So are those in the Congress. PCC chief Ghulam Nabi Azad described the imposition of Governorís Rule as ''unfortunate.'' The CPI(M) state general secretary, Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami, who is playing an important role in the effort to cobble a coalition government in the hung House, said that a democratic process has been sabotaged. ''The ardent proponents of the status-quo and the bitter opponents of a change in Kashmir have temporarily won the day by succeeding in imposing the Governorís Rule when the political parties charged with carrying out the mandate of the people were engaged in the difficult job of government formation,'' Mr Tarigami said in a statement here. As Mr Tarigami and other members of recently-formed Peoplesí Democratic Forum mounted their pressure on the Congress and the PDP to get over their differences and stake their claim to form the government, Mr Azad had another round of talks with Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. The PDF, which includes Gulam Mohiuddin Sofi, the Hurriyat Conference rebel who won from Handwara, has given the two parties time till Sunday, after which it will stake its claim to power with the possible outside support from the National Conference.