Mufti meets Sonia in battle of wits
24 October 2002
CL Manoj and H Bula Devi
New Delhi: Polite formalities are likely to be dispensed with at tomorrow’s meeting between Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed over the government formation in J&K. But the refrain, unlike in Lucknow, may be pehle main, pehle main. The Congress seems firm that CLP leader Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad should head the coalition government in J&K. On its offer to share the top post on a rotational basis, the Congress may insist on Mr Azad leading the government first. For, it has more MLAs than Mr Sayeed’s Progressive Democratic Party. But PDP too may strike a tough posture and insist on getting the chief minister’s chair first. And this, leaders said, may continue to hang fire for sometime. But the Congress will be ready to provide an honourable settlement for Mr Sayeed, including deputy chief ministership for his daughter, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, keeping in mind the need for a stable government. Despite their guarded silence Congress leaders appear confident, for they feel Mr Sayeed has come forward to talk only because he’s under pressure from his own MLAs. A Congress leader said: “The last time Muftisahab came to talk, he had the option of telling us that if we don’t agree to his demands, he wouldn’t support us to form a government. Now things have changed and he knows we almost staked claim to form a government without his support.” To keep up the pressure on the PDP chief, the Azad camp seems to be ‘‘working on’’ not only some PDP legislators but also a select group of National Conference lawmakers. After returning from Uttar Pradesh later this evening, Mrs Gandhi was scheduled to have informal discussions with some senior leaders to firm up the party’s negotiation points. The fear of defection has reportedly forced the PDP to change tacks and sit for another round of talks. The party is now caught between the electorate and legislators’ threats. At a public meeting in Anantnag today, two important PDP leaders were missing – Mr Ghulam Hassan Mir and Mr Ghulam Mohammed Beg. The meeting was called to introduce the legislators to the people. But it’s not clear whether the two leaders were genuinely busy or gave out a signal of being unhappy with the party leadership. The Congress has an eye on the two leaders because they can reportedly help bring others to the Congress fold. Voters are now urging PDP leaders to either lead the coalition government or remain firm on its stand. But some legislators don’t mind dumping the party’s manifesto to become part of the government. The Sayeeds are groping in the dark now. If they climb down they stand discredited in people’s eyes. If they stick to their stand the Hurriyat is likely to bounce back and take centrestage.