Monday, October 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

J&K Cong MLAs to meet today
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 13
With the People’s Democratic Party chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed claiming the post of Chief Minister for his party during talks with Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the Congress today decided to convene a meeting of its newly-elected MLAs in Srinagar tomorrow to decide the issue.

Mr Sayeed, who met Congress President yesterday, had two rounds of talks with the Congress leaders on Sunday. He met Jammu and Kashmir PCC chief Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior Congress leaders Ambika Soni, Arjun Singh and Manmohan Singh at the residence of Mr Manmohan Singh in the morning. Later in the evening, he met Congress president Mrs Gandhi at her residence. Though he did not speak about the discussions with Mrs Gandhi, he was evidently satisfied with the outcome.

The Congress leaders remained huddled in meetings today to decide about the formation of government. With the state Governor G.C. Saxena having called leaders of the PDP and the Congress for discussion on the government formation by October 15, pressure was building up on the two parties to decide the issue early. After the morning meeting with Mr Sayeed, the Congress leaders briefed Mrs Gandhi about their discussions. Mrs Gandhi deliberated with senior party leaders for almost five hours in the evening during which Mr Sayeed met her for almost 30 minutes.

Mr Manmohan Singh later said Mr Sayeed was insisting that the post of Chief Minister should go to the PDP. “At the end, Mufti Sahib said it was important that his party should lead the coalition,” Mr Manmohan Singh said. “The Congress President said this was a matter in which views of the newly-elected Congress MLAs have to be ascertained,” he added.

The Congress Legislature Party, he said, would meet at 3 pm in Srinagar tomorrow and the CLP leader would also be elected. Mr R.K. Dhawan, Mr Ahmed Patel and Mr Satyajit Geakwad have been made the central observers for the meeting. Mr Azad would also be in Srinagar tomorrow.

Mr Manmohan Singh said the view of the CLP would help the Congress high command make up its mind on the leadership issue. By not outrightly rejecting the PDP demand for the CM’s post, the Congress high command had indicated that it was flexible on the issue. The party, however, had not yet given up its claim for the top job in the state. Convincing the party MLAs against leading the coalition might not be easy as the Congress had more seats than the PDP and the party had promised that the next Chief Minister would be from the Jammu region.

Mr Manmohan Singh said Mr Sayeed and Congress leaders also discussed the issues relating to the common minimum programme. He said Mrs Gandhi emphasised that the poll had given a chance to make a new beginning to redress the grievances of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, meet their aspirations and bring peace. The Congress President said it was imperative that Mr Sayeed’s party and other like-minded parties should work together.

The common minimum programme was also expected to contain details on how to reconcile differing stands of the parties on the issue of dealing with terrorism in the state in view of the perceived “soft” approach of the PDP.


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