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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2966

Congress-National Conference to form government in Jammu and Kashmir

By M Rama Rao, India Editor, Asian Tribune

New Delhi, 31 December ( National Conference, which emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats and the Sonia Congress, which emerged as the second runner up, after the PDP of former chief minister Mufti Md Sayeed, with 17 seats in the assembly elections have decided to form the new government in Jammu and Kashmir.

The tie –up was finalized after National Conference leader Omar Abdullah (38), who will lead the government held an hour long meeting with Sonia Gandhi here in New Delhi on Tuesday. The coalition will have one seat more than the number required for a majority in a House of 87.

"It has been decided that I will lead the coalition government in the state of which Congress will be a part", he told reporters after the meeting. He said that the Congress would get the post of deputy chief minister, adding his preference for Dy CM will be someone who hails from Jammu, which is the Hindu majority region of the border state.

The coalition structure has not been decided. The outgoing coalition between the Congress and the PDP provided for rotating the CM post between the partners. While the PDP held the reins for the first three years, the Congress took over the CM post for the reminder three year term.

Nitty-gritty of the alliance needs to be worked out, Omar told a questioner. A committee of senior leaders from both sides will go into these details.

Congress General Secretary, Prithviraj Chavan, who is also in charge of the party affairs in Jammu & Kashmir, who met reporters along with Omar said that Omar Abdullah made the coalition proposal and that Sonia Gandhi agreed to the suggestion.

"Omar Abdullah called on Congress President and proposed formation of a coalition government. The Congress President accepted the proposal. The government would be headed by Omar Abdullah", Chavan said.

Omar described the new arrangement as a 'government of partnership'. "It is going to be a partnership, a coalition between the National Conference and the Congress. We are equal partners. We have an equal stake", he said. 'The clearest and best formula and formulation was an alliance of NC with the Congress as this required no assistance from any other quarter'.

A third generation member of 'Kashmir's First Family' Omar started his political career as a law maker in 1998 and was re-elected a year later. He went on to become the youngest minister at the age of 29 when he joined Atal Bihari Vajpayee government as minister of state for commerce.

Educated in Mumbai and Scotland, Omar holds Masters Degree in Business Administration. He made his electoral debut winning the Ganderbal assembly seat but lost it in 2002.

The outgoing chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was also present at the Omar-Sonia meeting. He is expected to be brought back to the Congress headquarters to play a sheet anchor role in readying the party for the Lok Sabha elections slated for mid-April

Setback To Separatists

The PDP, which was the Congress ally in the Azad government, is disappointed. It expected the Congress to close ranks with it once again but what tilted the scales against it are the perception that the party is close to the separatists and the not so happy experience of the alliance during the Amarnath shrine land controversy. Another factor that weighed against the PDP-Cong alliance is the reality that together the two parties would still fall short of the half way mark.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said she was 'not disappointed' over the decision of the Congress to join a government led by NC. She remarked that the mandate to her party is to play the role of a 'good, constructive opposition'.

'We are happy that we are finally going to see a democratically elected government sooner than later and we have always been saying that people have given us a mandate to play the role of good, constructive opposition and we will do that', she was quoted as saying in Srinagar.

National Conference initially projected Omar's father and NC patron Farooq Abdullah, as the chief ministerial candidate but the verdict made the party have a rethink since the Congress leaders have reservations on Farooq as CM

For the record, Farooq Abdullah,(72), who will be taking over the reins of the party, said, Cong-NC alliance will usher in a new era of development (in the state) and help better relations India and Pakistan.

He said 'with Omar Abdullah (party president), becoming the head of the government the most difficult job of strengthening the party has come on my shoulders. And as president of the party, I am of the view there is need to take revolutionary steps to strengthen the party'.

The senior Abdullah remarked that India and Pakistan would have to try to get the separatists on the 'main table' so that they do not feel alienated and a final and durable solution to Kashmir problem of 60 years can be achieved.

'For resolution of Kashmir issue it is imperative to make separatists a stake holder in the dialogue process', Farooq added.

The verdict in Kashmir assembly elections is a set back to the separatist camp led by Hurriyat conference and also the hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads his own Hurriyat outfit.

Many of them have reasoned that the people voted on bread and butter issues which only an elected government would resolve and not on issues of 'freedom'. The struggle for 'freedom' will continue, they said.

Said Geelani: 'Those who were elected have made promises to the people who voted. It will be test for the new government to fulfil the promises of providing roads, electricity and drinking water to the people'.

He added while people voted for the mainstream politicians on the promises of better civic amenities and jobs, the separatists continue to represent the real sentiment of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

- Asian Tribune -

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