Tuesday, October 15, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Cong, PDP adamant
Azad is LCP chief, gets support of 8 Ind, Panthers
S.P. Sharma and M.L. Kak
Tribune News Service

Srinagar/Jammu, October 14
The PCC chief, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, was unanimously elected leader of the Legislature Congress Party (LCP) in Srinagar today even as both the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stuck to their guns on the issue of chief ministership of the coalition government.

Immediately after his election as CPL leader, Mr Azad left for Raj Bhavan to meet the Governor, Mr G.C. Saxena, and discuss the situation regarding the position of the Congress to form a government. He clarified that his aim was not to stake claim for forming a government.

The Governor had invited the leaders of the NC, Congress and PDP separately to explore the possibility of forming a government before October 17, when the term of the present government ends.

All 20 Congress MLAs supported the candidature of Mr Azad for chief ministership when the AICC leaders, Mr R.K. Dhawan, Mr Ahmed Patel and Mr Satyajit Singh Gaekwad, met them individually to elicit their views on the issue. A Congress spokesman claimed that eight Independents have also supported Mr Azad for the post. Mr Mangat Ram Sharma, vice-president of the PCC, also supported him.

Mr Azad said the Congress wanted that a coalition government should be formed in J & K with the PDP. Further talks on the possibility would be held with the PDP chief, Mufti Sayeed.

The Panthers Party Chairman, Dr Bhim Singh, announced unconditional support to the Congress leader, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, if his name was cleared for heading the coalition government.

He told newsmen in Jammu that his party, which had four members in the House, would support any candidate from the Jammu region for the Chief Minister’s post.

The Panthers leader said a Jammuite had never been installed as Chief Minister. In view of the fragmented verdict, a situation had been thrown up for giving the Chief Minister’s post to a Jammuite.

He said Ms Mehbooba Mufti’s rejection of a Jammuite as Chief Minister was unfortunate.

On the other hand, hectic activity is taking place in the National Conference and PDP camps.

After lying low for four days after the election results came in, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s residence was again humming with activity. The NC chief, Mr Omar Abdullah, also met party workers after returning from Raj Bhavan. Two Independent MLAs also visited the CM’s residence. The Working Committee of the NC is reported to have decided yesterday that the party should not surrender its claim of forming the government.

Mr Omar Abdullah, who is also a minister at the Centre, left for Delhi in the afternoon, reportedly to submit his resignation from the ministry as he had announced during the third phase of the election after getting annoyed over the criticism of the NC government by certain senior leaders of the BJP, including Mrs Sushma Swaraj.

The Working Committee and the Legislature Party of the PDP also met at the residence of Mr Mufti in Naogam on the outskirts of the town.

Mr Azad, who arrived from Delhi in the afternoon, said it would have been ideal to have a Congress-led coalition government with the PDP and other like-minded people in it. The CPL meeting was held to elicit the opinion of the elected MLAs as the Mufti at his meeting with Mrs Sonia Gandhi had said that the members of the PDP had expressed the desire that only he (Mufti) should head the coalition government.

He said with the national-level character of the Congress, which was enjoying the position of the Opposition party in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, it was capable of rectifying the wrongs that had been done in the state during the 27-year rule of the National Conference.

Mr Azad said he was not in a hurry as three days were still there for forming the new government. He accused the NC of trying to kidnap certain Independent MLAs who had announced their support to the Congress. Four MLAs were taken to the house of an NC minister yesterday by policemen. One MLA, Mr Manohar Lal, was missing, he said.

He said after having been defeated in the Assembly elections, the NC should allow the elected MLAs to discharge their function of choosing the leader and the official machinery should not be misused by Dr Abdullah to manipulate things.

Mr Azad said a group of Congress leaders had identified the common agreeable points in the manifestos of the Congress and PDP after two days of exercise.

Soon after the meeting of the LCP, Haji Nissar, an Independent MLA from Kargil, announced that he would support the Congress.


Panthers extend support to Cong
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 14
The Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) chief, Mr Bhim Singh, today met Congress President Sonia Gandhi to convey his party’s support to the Congress in the chief ministerial sweepstakes in the state. The JKNPP has won four seats in the Assembly.

Sources said Mr Bhim Singh told the Congress President that his party would only back a chief ministerial candidate from the Jammu region. Though Mr Bhim Singh is putting forward his own candidature for the post of Chief Minister, he said that the JKNPP would support the Congress in case Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, who hails from Doda district in Jammu region, staked claim to form the government.

Claiming that the JKNPP had acceptability in all three regions of the state, Mr Bhim Singh said if the Congress was not in a position to form the government, the post of Chief Minister should go to his party.

The Panthers Party has ruled out supporting the candidature of PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for the post of Chief Minister. The support of the JKNPP is crucial for the Congress which is now thinking of staking claim to form the government even without the support of the PDP.

With the election of Mr Azad as the LCP leader in Srinagar today, the Congress has made it clear that it would enter into a coalition with the PDP on its own terms and would not succumb to pressure from the regional party which would have to be a junior partner in any coalition.

The Congress leaders were incensed yesterday at the reported remarks of PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti about not accepting Mr Azad as the Chief Minister. Ms Mufti’s remarks came while negotiations were being held between Mr Sayeed and senior Congress leaders in the Capital.

After efforts to bring round Mr Sayeed for abandoning his party’s claims for the post of Chief Minister did not succeed, the Congress high command yesterday decided to take a more independent line in forming the government and declare Mr Azad to be its candidate for the CM’s post at the meeting of its legislators in Srinagar.

The Congress is banking on the support of Independent MLAs, many of whom enjoyed its tacit support during the poll. The party contested 77 of the 87 seats in the state, leaving the rest for the PDP or Independents. Senior party leaders feel that the PDP MLAs, who were supported by the Congress, would gravitate towards the party. They also see some dissensions in the PDP in case the party goes too close to the National Conference. A top PDP leader had a two-hour meeting with National Conference leader and acting Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah recently.

The NC, which was earlier talking of sitting in the Opposition, has also started wooing the Independents if only to spoil the show of the Congress and the PDP. Some NC leaders are now even talking of forming the next government.

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