October 12, 2002, Chandigarh, India
Independents hold key
Jammu/Srinagar, October 11
Mr Azad paraded five of the six Independents at a press conference here. They were Maulvi Abdul Rashid from Banihal, Mr Aijaj Khan from Gool, Mr Haji Nissar Ali from Kargil, Mr Jatinder Singh from Kathua and Mr Abdul Majid Wani from the Doda constituency.
Mr Azad said four more Independents would join the Congress in the Kashmir valley. He said with these Independents, the Congress-PDP alliance would have “no problem so far as the formation of the government is concerned.”
He said talks were in progress for having a consensus candidate for the post of Chief Minister. He left for Delhi this afternoon to attend the Congress Working Committee meeting.
Mr Azad said the CWC would decide whether the mantle of Chief Minister should fall on a Congress candidate or one from the PDP.
Congress workers here demanded that Mr Azad be made Chief Minister as the party had a bigger strength in the Assembly than the PDP. The PDP has 16 seats and the Congress has 20, excluding the six Independents who joined it today. Mr Azad has a strong contender in Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who has ruled out the possibility of his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, who won from the Pahalgam constituency, being in the race for either the post of Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister.
The Mufti is not in favour of the Deputy Chief Minister’s post. He has said if the coalition partners insisted on it there should be two Deputy Chief Ministers, including one from Ladakh. The Congress plans to opt for a Deputy Chief Minister from Jammu in case a man from Kashmir valley is inducted as Chief Minister.
The PDP’s claim for the post of Chief Minister is based on the argument that since it was instrumental in routing the NC from the Kashmir valley after a gap of 27 years, it deserved a preferential treatment.
The PDP leader, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, told TNS that a meeting of the newly-elected legislators of the party had been convened in Srinagar tomorrow to discuss the future course of action.
However, another PDP leader claimed that the Chief Minister should be from their party because it had wrested more seats in the Kashmir valley which had resulted in the ouster of the NC. A meeting of the Working Committee and the Political Affairs Committee of the PDP will also be held tomorrow.
Seven Independents have decided to go with PDP. This was expected to tilt the balance in favour of the PDP on the question of chief ministership as its strength will increase to 23.
Besides Mr Azad and Mufti Sayeed the name of Mr Saif -ud-Din Soz is also being discussed for the Chief Minister’s post. Mr Soz was earlier in the National Conference and was expelled from the party when the Vajpayee government at the Centre fell in the Lok Sabha by one vote as he violated the party’s whip by not voting against the no-confidencemotion against the NDA government. Later, he joined the Congress and has been speaking for bringing the militants in the mainstream.
It is learnt that the seven newly elected MLAs who have extended support to the PDP are, Mr Sofi Mohiuddin, Mr Raman Mattoo, Mr Hakim Yaseen, Mr Abdul Majid, Maulvi Abdul Rashid, Mr Nissar Ali and Mr Shahjahan Dar. The PDP is expecting three more Independents to come into its fold.
A section of the PDP is of the opinion that keeping in mind the complex situation and the poll promises made by the party, Mufti Sayeed should not burn his fingers by becoming Chief Minister. Moreover, a couple of poll promises of the Congress and the PDP were contradictory which could lead to tension between the two parties.
Meanwhile, the residence of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, near Srinagar, presented a picture of festivity. Slogan-shouting men and women reached there in trucks and buses from various parts of the valley. The womenfolk sang folk songs in Kashmiri to glorify the Mufti and his daughter Mehbooba.
A number of civil and police officers, who were earlier running around ministers of the NC, were seen at the residence of the Mufti, carrying garlands and bouquets. The elected members of the PDP sat separately on the sprawling lawns of the residence, addressing their respective supporters.
In contrast, the residence of Dr Abdullah and his ministerial colleagues gave a deserted look. Supporters of Education Minister Mohammed Shaffi thronged his residence to express surprise and sorrow on his defeat after having won the Uri seat for seven successive terms.
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