Cong Anticipates Early Assembly Polls, To Contest All 87 Seats; Targets Win In 50

Cong Anticipates Early Assembly Polls, To Contest All 87 Seats; Targets Win In 50

31 August 2013
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: The Congress is all set to go it alone in the next Assembly elections in the State by putting up candidates on all 87 seats and setting a target of 50 seats to win, six more than the simple majority required in the Lower House to form the Government on its own. The party has identified the districts, where it was placed in a good position and where it required to work very hard to meet the challenge of “two regional parties of Kashmir” and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The indications to this effect were clearly given by a top party leader and a strong contender for the post of Chief Ministership in the Congress during one day convention of the PCC (I) held here today. The Congress might not project any party leader as the Chief Minister. A senior leader told the convention that he had seen Congress losing elections in the States where it had projected Chief Ministers before the polls and winning where it went without projecting anyone as the CM. “Many leaders start pulling the legs of candidate projected as the Chief Minister,” he said. All India Congress (I) Committee general secretary, Incharge Jammu and Kashmir, Ambika Soni has, meanwhile, set two months time frame for Omar Abdullah led National Conference-Congress coalition Government for amendment in the State Panchayati Raj Act and implement important provisions of 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India in it. Taking strong exception to induction of Congress leader Sheikh Ashfaq Jabbar into the National Conference in Ganderbal, the Assembly segment held by the Chief Minister, Mr Soni while speaking to reporters after the convention called upon Omar to stick to 'coalition dharma’ saying this could force the Congress to admit NC leaders into the party. Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad and PCC (I) president Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz accompanied Ms Soni in the press conference. The Congress presented a show of strength with not only Mr Azad and Prof Soz sharing the dais in the press conference and the convention but their supporters also attending the convention together. Significantly, the resolution on Food Security Bill moved by Prof Soz was seconded by Mr Azad during the convention. In her press conference, Ambika Soni, however, said the Congress was yet to take any decision on pre-poll alliance in the State. “We have inter-acted with leaders of Jammu today. In next 10 days, we will meet the leaders of Kashmir and then elicit opinion of Leh and Kargil before taking any decision,” she added. Categorically ruling out early Lok Sabha elections, which were due in April-May 2014, a senior Congress leader is said to have asked the party cadre to prepare for early Assembly elections in the State, which, according to him, could be held in the next few months. He reportedly said that the National Conference was preparing for early Assembly elections. The close door convention that lasted nearly four hours was barred for the media. Only invited party leaders including Ministers, legislators, former Ministers, former legislators and office bearers had been invited to the convention. Not sparing the Congress Ministers and senior party leaders either, Ms Soni, in her address to the convention, is reported to have taken the party Ministers in the Alliance Government to task describing them as “constituency specific Ministers”. “When I and Prof Soz met AICC (I) vice president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi to discuss Jammu and Kashmir’s political situation, he (Mr Gandhi) gave a new terminology to Congress Ministers in the State describing them as “constituency specific Ministers,” Ms Soni reportedly said in the convention in which all Congress Ministers of the State were present. However, she reportedly said, Prof Soz told Rahul that things were now slightly better. Most of the senior party leaders and workers have been targeting the party Ministers for focusing only towards their constituencies and paying no heed to other Assembly segments, which could mar the party prospectus in the upcoming Parliament and Assembly elections. Insiders in the convention told the Excelsior that Ambika Soni directed the party Ministers to shun the tag of being constituency specific and behave as Ministers of entire State. She called upon them to start touring the State along with senior functionaries of the party and strengthen the Congress in every nook and corner of the State. Not only this, Ambika Soni, who was on first visit to the State after being appointed as AICC (I) general secretary, Incharge Jammu and Kashmir is understood to have expressed surprise and serious concern over the fact that the party leaders were raising same issues in 2013 which she had heard from them in 2002 when she was also Incharge of J&K. “I had come here to listen about Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition Bill, passed recently by the Lok Sabha. Here, the situation is totally different. I am hearing the issues, which I used to listen in 2002. We are in power in the State for last 11 years now (since 2002). What we have done? Why our Ministers have failed to get these issues addressed while being in the Government? This is very unfortunate situation,” she reportedly said taking the party Ministers to task in an angry tone. Party insiders said Ms Soni was highly critical of the party Ministers having miserably failed to get the issues of 1947, 1965 and 1971 refugees addressed prompting the convention to pass a strong resolution in support of the demand of PoK and West Pakistani refugees. She directed the Ministers to get all issues of all refugees addressed within two months with legal cover. She went on: “what has happened to our party Ministers and leaders? I met a large number of delegations since arriving here yesterday afternoon. The delegations said they have been losing faith on Ministers. Their works are not being done. This is sorry state of affairs”. Ambika Soni is said to have directed the party Ministers, leaders and workers to hold rallies in all 87 Assembly segments and maintain liaison with the people to fare well in the upcoming Parliament and Assembly elections. She cautioned the senior party functionaries that if they failed to improve the party prospectus in next two months she would be forced to give responsibility to the Youth Congress. Meanwhile, a very senior Congress leader and a strong contender for the post of Chief Ministership in case the party stormed to power in next Assembly elections, reportedly told the convention, that the State Government was preparing to hold early Assembly elections. A senior party functionary quoted the top party leader as saying that the elections could be held in the next few months. His indication was interpreted that Assembly and Lok Sabha elections could be held simultaneously in the State i.e. in April-May. On points raised by some party leaders that Congress agenda was not being implemented in the present dispensation, he reportedly said that the party agenda would be implemented only when the party formed its Government in the State. Virtually ruling out any pre-poll alliance with National Conference, he was said to have called upon the party leaders to brace up for contesting all 87 Assembly seats in the State during the elections and fixed the target of winning at least 50 seats, six more than the simple majority in the Lower House, which would help the party form the Government on its own. The party veteran reportedly said in the convention that the Congress was very well poised in five districts of Jammu region including Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Reasi and Udhampur, where, he claimed, the party was in a position to win majority of seats provided that a little more attention was paid there. However, he anticipated a stiff contest in Kathua, Samba, Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch with “two regional parties” (NC and PDP) apart from BJP. He called upon the Congress cadre to pay more focus on these five districts to garner maximum seats from there. As the convention was confined to Jammu region, the Congress leader didn’t give analysis of Kashmir and Ladakh regions. He was said to have asked the senior party leaders not to air comments on functioning of the Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in public. It may be mentioned that some organisations have been supporting while others were opposing the VDCs after August 9 Kishtwar riots. The BJP and the NPP have openly been backing the VDCs. Insiders said the statement of the Congress veteran that the NC was bracing up for early polls and that Assembly elections could be held in the next few months took many party leaders by surprise as they had been anticipating that Assembly polls would be held on time. He reportedly called upon the party cadre to brace up to make a Congressman as the next Chief Minister in the State so that agenda of the party was implemented. Sources said party veteran dropped enough hints in the convention that the Congress was going to make a determined bid to form next Government in the State on its own. While Parliament elections were due in April-May next year as new Lok Sabha had to be constituted before the middle of June, the Assembly elections were due in November-December 2014 as new Assembly had to be constituted before January 5, 2015. Former Minister and Inderwal MLA Ghulam Mohammad Saroori reportedly agitated over neglect of erstwhile Doda district by the present Government as well as Congress. Pointing towards a party office bearer and MLC, he reportedly said the Congress leader, who had secured 50 votes in last Assembly elections have been made office bearers while the leaders of Doda belt, who had taken thousands of votes have been ignored in the party. Meanwhile, speaking to media after the party convention, Ambika Soni flanked by Mr Azad and Prof Soz said the party would hold a similar convention in Kashmir in next 7 to 10 days followed by inter-action with leaders of Leh and Kargil to decide party’s strategy for next Assembly elections including pre-poll alliance. “I will answer your question only after eliciting the opinion of all party leaders from all three regions,” she told a questioner. To a question on Bapu Asaram, the Congress leader said her party’s stand was very clear on the issue that law is equal for all and it should take its own course. “Victimisation of women in the country wouldn’t be tolerated at any cost. We are very clear on this. Our Governments acted promptly on New Delhi and Mumbai rape cases. No leniency should be shown to any person involved in any act of crime. I can’t accept the charge that the Congress Government (in Rajasthan) was lenient towards Bapu Asaram. The fact that Asaram’s supporters have indulged in violence indicated that they are on the weak wicket,” she asserted. To a question on implementation of 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India in Jammu and Kashmir, Ambika set two months timeframe for the Government for implementation of major provisions of the amendment in the State Panchayati Raj Act as agreed upon by the two coalition partners. “I’m not setting any deadline. I don’t believe in deadlines but I have set two months time frame for the Government for implementing major provisions of 73rd amendment like reservation for women, SCs, STs, honorarium and powers to Panchayat members etc in the State Panchayati Raj Act,” she said and pointing out that the Congress had been raking up the issue for past quite some time. She recalled the agitation launched by the Youth Congress for the purposes and issue taken up by Prof Soz in the Co-ordination Committee. She disclosed that Prof Soz after discussing the issue with Mr Azad had also written to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on July 26 for implementation of major provisions of 73rd amendment and holding of elections to Block Development Council with reservations. “When we hold our convention in Srinagar, both of our senior leaders (Mr Azad and Prof Soz) along with our two MPs will speak to the Chief Minister on the issue once again,” the AICC (I) general secretary said. Asserting that the Congress had been since the time of Rajiv Gandhi stressing for strengthening and empowerment of Panchayats, Ms Soni said the State Government shall have to be time bound and implement provisions of 73rd amendment within two months. “I am the nominee of both Centre and the State leadership. When I say something, I say it on behalf of both. Implementation of 73rd amendment provisions is not an election issue for us. This was the issue in our manifesto. We would look all issues in our manifesto to be fulfilled. So I have set the time frame of two months,” she added. Ambika Soni said even the Chief Minister is keen to adopt the major provisions of 73rd amendment in the State Panchayati Raj Act. I’m confident that the process would be completed in the next two months,” she added. She evaded reply to a question on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement that he was not custodian of the missing Coalgate files. “I don’t know much about it as I was not in New Delhi yesterday,” she said. Taking questions of media persons, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad ruled out early elections to Parliament and said they would be held as per its periodicity. “There is no question of early Lok Sabha elections… There are no grounds for it,” Mr Azad said. “Parliament elections would be held as per its periodicity and will not be held a single day before its due timing,” he said. He was replying to a volley of questions on early elections, Kishtwar communal clashes and relief to quake-hit areas. The BJP had yesterday submitted a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi seeking dissolution of Lok Sabha and early Parliamentary elections in view of economic crisis in the country and failure of the UPA Government on all fronts. Replying to a query on the communal clashes in Kishtwar, Mr Azad said a team deployed by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has done a commendable job as they have created good atmosphere by bringing both the communities together. “The team has filed their report and I hope that the issue of immediate compensation for people whose properties were damaged in the riots would soon be decided by the State Government soon,” he added. Referring to the implementation of the 73rd and 74th amendments in the Panchayati Raj Act, Mr Azad said the Ministers from both the regions had strongly batted for its implementation and he was hopeful it would happen soon. “I am hopeful that these recommendations would soon be implemented,” he added. To a question, Mr Azad said the State Government shall not be cowed down by the threats to German Zubin Mehta’s concert in Srinagar by the separatists. “The conert should be held,” he added. The Congress passed five resolution in the convention including promoting unity and integrity of the State, condemning Pakistan for unprovoked firing, addressing issues of refugees, strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions in the State and welcoming the UPA Government decision for passing Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition Bill. The political resolution, moved by party veteran Dharam Pal Sharma, former MP and seconded by Mula Ram, former Minister resolved that Jammu and Kashmir would remain one entity with balanced model of development of all three regions of the State in a climate of peace, togetherness and human dignity. “The PCC resolved to leave no stone unturned to promote and strengthen the unity and integrity of the nation. It further resolved to make all efforts to strengthen integrity of the State and ensure balanced development of all three regions,” the resolution said. The resolution on refugees was moved by former Minister RS Chib and seconded by Congress senior leader and party MP from Jammu-Poonch Lok Sabha seat, Madan Lal Sharma. It urged the coalition Government to accept demands of various categories of refugees now residing in different parts of the State. “There are refugees from PoK and those, who were displaced in wars with Pakistan in 1947, 1965 and 1971. All these categories of refugees have genuine demands, which should be accepted at the earlier. The JKPCC feels that the Government of India is very clear on this issue and once Jammu and Kashmir Government decides action on the demands, the Centre would provide necessary support,” the resolution said. The resolution condemning Pakistan firing on the LoC was moved by Pt Mangat Ram Sharma, former Deputy Chief Minister and seconded by Congress MP from Udhampur-Doda Lok Sabha seat Choudhary Lal Singh. It condemned killing of five Arms jawans and offered condolences to their families. The resolution urged Government of India to tell Pakistan in clear cut terms that such events of organised acrimony are unacceptable to India and warn it against repetition of such deplorable incidents. The resolution urged the State Government to devise a plan to declare the area within the radius of 8 to 10 kilometers along the border in Jammu and Kashmir as backward and provide the benefits to the people, which have been granted to backward areas elsewhere. The PCC (I) resolution on strengthening of Panchayati Raj institutions in Jammu and Kashmir was moved by Youth Congress president Shahnawaz Choudhary. It said the Congress is committed to empowerment of Panchayati Raj Institutions so that democratic process have a positive impact at the grass root levels in the State and participation of all segments of society is ensures in the development process. Asserting that 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India has empowered Panchayati Raj in the country, the resolution reiterated the PCC resolve that unless provisions of 73rd amendment were incorporated in the Panchayati Raj Act of the State, the Panchayat system would not get empowered. It expressed hope that Congress endeavours in this regard would bear fruit in the future. Through another resolution moved by Prof Soz and seconded by Mr Azad, the Congress described National Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha as “historic and welcome steps”. “The National Food Security Bill is a land mark legislation that will revolutionize the system in the entire country as it would provide adequate food at affordable prices to the people to live a life of dignity,” Prof Soz said, adding that this “revolutionary measure” envisaged to cover 75 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of urban population. Prof Soz said the Right to Food Security and Land Acquisition measures will together constitute a great leap forward for India to its glorious era of peace and prosperity. The resolution, however, made no appeal to the State Government to implement Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition Bill in the State. Proceedings of the convention were conducted by PCC (I) general secretary, Incharge Media and Communications, Ravinder Sharma, MLC.