Sunday, October 13, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Congress, PDP talks make some headway
Both parties lay claim to CM’s post
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 12
Efforts to form a coalition between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir made some headway tonight with PDP chief Mufti Mohammed Sayeed meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi to discuss the formation of government.

Mr Sayeed, who arrived here declaring that chief ministership was a “non-issue” between the two parties, had a 40-minute meeting with Mrs Gandhi. He may have a second round of talks tomorrow. Two CPM MLAs would also meet Mrs Gandhi.

Sources said Mr Sayeed later had separate meeting with Jammu and Kashmir Congress PCC chief Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress general secretary Ambika Soni and senior leader Manmohan Singh at Mr Singh’s residence.

It is understood that the PDP was laying claim the post of Chief Minister but the Congress was yet not in a mood to yield because it has won more seats.

The PDP is insisting that the top spot should go to the Kashmir valley where people’s sense of alienation had to be addressed. All 16 MLAs of the PDP are from the valley.

A senior Congress leader said the party had not given up its claim for the chief ministership according to wishes of party MLAs. Congress has 20 seats and has claimed the support of 15 Independents.

While the Congress, which has won most of its 20 seats from the Jammu region, wants the Chief Minister from there, the PDP has been saying that the post should go to a leader from the Kashmir valley. Both Mr Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti have been saying that ways had to be found to see that alienation of people from the valley did not increase and they were provided with a healing touch.

The formation of coalition government has been delayed as the leadership issue between two parties has not been settled. The Congress has virtually decided to project Jammu and Kashmir PCC chief Ghulam Nabi Azad as its chief ministerial candidate.

There is also difference in the approaches of the PDP and the Congress towards talks with militants. While the PDP favours unconditional talks with militants of the state, the Congress favours talks within the ambit of the Indian Constitution.

Mr Sayeed indicated that the parties will be working towards an agenda of governance. Six independents belonging to the Democratic People’s Front (DPF) also declared their intention to give issue-based support to a PDP-Congress coalition.

“We exchanged ideas on the formation of a coalition government,” Mr Sayeed said after the meeting Mrs Gandhi.

He said the Congress and the PDP were major parties and they discussed how to bring other parties together for the formation of the government. As reporters asked him amid heavy downpour whether the issue of chief ministership had been sorted out, Mr Sayeed avoided a reply.

Earlier on his arrival here from Srinagar, Mr Sayeed said chief ministership was a “non-issue” between them. A “strategy and a programme” would be evolved for forming a coalition government, he said.

“The question of who will be the Chief Minister is a non-issue. There is no dearth of appropriate candidates as there are a galaxy of leaders in the Congress and the PDP,” he said.

JKPCC president Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was to proceed to Srinagar, postponed his visit apparently in view of Mr Sayeed’s arrival in the Capital.

The Congress Legislature Party (CLP) is likely to meet in Srinagar on Monday to elect its leader. Jammu and Kashmir Governor G C Saxena had called Mr Azad for exploratory discussions by October 15.


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