Sunday, October 27, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Mufti to be CM
Cong, PDP agree on rotation
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 26
Mr Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is set to be the new Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir as head of a coalition of the Peoples Democratic Party, Congress, smaller parties and Independents.

The decision was announced today by Congress President Sonia Gandhi after a two-hour meeting with Mr Sayeed at her residence. LCP leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh and Mr Yusuf Taragami of the Peoples Democratic Forum also joined the discussions later.

“It has been decided that Mufti sahib will be Chief Minister,’’ Mrs Gandhi announced in the presence of coalition leaders.

She said the post of Chief Minister would be rotational but did not specify its duration. “The details will be worked out during government formation,’’ she said. However, Mr Azad said later that each party would have the post for three years.

Asked if there would a Deputy Chief Minister, Mrs Gandhi said, “That too is there.’’ She said the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the coalition would be announced tomorrow. “The CMP has been seen by Mufti sahib. It will be released after it is seen by other coalition partners,’’ Mrs Gandhi said.

Asked why the Congress had taken so long to decide about backing Mr Sayeed, Mrs Gandhi said her party followed a system of extensive consultations. She conceded that some Congress Chief Ministers and leaders were in favour of a Congress-led government. “But after a lot of discussions with my colleagues, I came to the conclusion that in the larger interest of the people of the valley, it would right to back Mr Sayeed,’’ she said.

Earlier, Mr Sayeed had another round of talks with senior Congress leaders Manmohan Singh and Arjun Singh to finalise the CMP.

Mr Sayeed said the poll had provided a golden opportunity and it could be turning point for the people of the state. “We will consolidate the secular forces and give the people a healing touch,’’ he said.

Mr Sayeed is expected to leave for Srinagar on Monday and stake claim to form a government. Congress leader from Jammu Mangat Ram Sharma is likely to be made Deputy Chief Minister. The sources said the CMP had taken into account the concerns of the Congress and the promises of the PDP. The CMP, they said, referred to the 1975 Indira-Shiekh accord, which had been a cornerstone of Congress policies in the state.

Today’s decision is being seen as a big climbdown by the Congress. Partymen were expecting that after protracted negotiations spread over the past 20 days on the leadership issue, their party would lead the coalition as it had more numbers. With the election of Mr Azad as the LCP leader, the party had given clear signals about its intention to lead the coalition. Several arguments were given by AICC leaders earlier to rubbish the PDP claim and to emphasise that a government headed by a national party would be more beneficial to the people of the state. Mr Azad is unlikely to continue as LCP leader in Jammu and Kashmir and may be renominated to the Rajya Sabha from the state. Even if Mr Azad eventually comes back to the AICC, he would continue as PCC chief of Jammu and Kashmir for some time. Mr Bhim Singh did a volte-face within hours of his reiteration today that he would not support Mr Sayeed as Chief Minister.

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