Monday, October 21, 2002, Chandigarh, India






National Capital Region--Delhi

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Manmohan hopeful
Talks with Mufti to continue today
S.P. Sharma and Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, October 20
The stalemate between the Congress and the Peopleís Democratic Party (PDP) on the issue of sharing power in Jammu and Kashmir was broken here today with Dr Manmohan Singh, a senior Congress leader, initiating talks with Mufti Sayeed for installing a coalition government.

Dr Manmohan Singh did not divulge anything to reporters after the first round of talks at the Naogam residence of the Mufti, but said he was satisfied with the discussion.

The talks will continue tomorrow when a meeting will again be held at the same place at 1 p.m.

The talks today were held on one-to-one basis and no one except Dr Manmohan Singh and the Mufti was present.

Replying to a question whether he was hopeful of a positive outcome, Dr Manmohan Singh said there was always hope.

The Mufti did not come out to comment on the talks and one of his aide said he had nothing to say as the talks were inconclusive.

Dr Manmohan Singh has been deputed for the talks by the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who is learnt to have herself discussed the matter with the Mufti on telephone yesterday.

However, sources said the Congress was not prepared to leave its claim on the Chief Ministerís post and most probably Dr Manmohan Singh had offered the post of Deputy Chief Ministership to the PDP with the Mufti heading the coordination committee of all parties and groups supporting the coalition government. The Mufti was insisting that he should be made the Chief Minister as the PDP had won 16 seats in the Kashmir valley causing a severe setback to the National Conference (NC).

Earlier, on his arrival at the residence of the PCC chief, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, in the afternoon, Dr Manmohan Singh told TNS that he had come here with the mission to create harmony between the Congress and the PDP. He was hopeful that the talks with the Mufti would be successful.

Thereafter, before leaving for the residence of the Mufti to begin the talks, Dr Manmohan Singh held a meeting with the Congress legislators and the five Independent MLAs who have become associate members of the CLP to elicit their views on the situation.

It is learnt that many of the legislators suggested that the Congress should not leave its claim the chief ministership to Mr Azad, but at the same time should clinch the issue with the Mufti who was a natural ally of the Congress. They said that some suitable adjustment should be made with the PDP.

An impasse has been created in the formation of the government here because of the hung Assembly which has emerged following the recent elections. No party was in a position to form the government on its own.

Mr Azad rushed to Delhi on Friday to consult Mrs Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders of the party and it was decided to send Dr Manmohan Singh to break the impasse.

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