Sunday, October 27, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

A Mehbooba, Sonia initiative
M.L. Kak
Tribune News Service

Jammu, October 26
The Congress has sided with those who mauled the otherwise invincible National Conference. This is the lesson one learns from the way the AICC leadership agreed to the demand of the PDP to instal Mufti Mohd Sayeed as Chief Minister in Jammu and Kashmir.

A week ago the PDP had almost lost the race against the Congress as far the Chief Ministerís post was concerned when the Congress made it clear that ďin spite of you, we will go without you.Ē This message rattled the PDP, which had decided to sit in the Opposition in case the Chief Ministerís seat was not offered to Mufti Mohd Sayeed. The initiative was taken by Ms Mehbooba Mufti who telephoned Ms Sonia Gandhi informing her that the PDP was prepared to discuss the matter of formation of a coalition government once again.

And it was the sole initiative of Ms Sonia Gandhi who invited the Mufti to Delhi on Thursday. The Mufti camp expressed a wish that the PDP chief would be able to fly to Delhi on Saturday because a public rally had been scheduled in Anantnag on Friday which was agreed to by the AICC President who was not prepared to force a split in the PDP.

That the Congress leadership was ready to surrender the Chief Ministerís post to the PDP set a healthy precedence after Ms Sonia Gandhi was advised by senior political leaders and Kashmir experts to avoid committing another blunder in Kashmir by denying to the PDP a chance to head the coalition government. On Friday itself indications were available that the Congress leadership was not prepared to annoy the Mufti and favour Ghulam Nabi Azad when Mr Azad was not invited to the talks held between the Mufti and Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Arjun Singh in Delhi.

The AICC President brushed aside the suggestion from Mr Azad and others that if the Congress was allowed to head the government in Kashmir it could help the party in the next general election.

The Mufti has had a chequered political career and during his long political innings be has remained a staunch opponent of the National Conference. He was instrumental in persuading late Ms Indira Gandhi to agree to Congress withdrawing support to Sheikh Abdullah in early 1977. He played a key role in engineering defections in the National Conference in 1984 which resulted in the fall of the Farooq-led government.

He had a one-point mission of heading a Congress Government in Jammu and Kashmir. But his detractors within the Congress created one problem or the other. In 1983 he resigned from the Congress to join the Jana Morcha headed by Mr V.P. Singh which was later christened as Janata Dal. He was given the Lok Sabha ticket from Muzaffarnagar constituency in UP which he won to become the first Muslim Union Home Minister.

Three years ago he had rejoined the Congress. His efforts to revive the Congress were sabotaged by none else than Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad forcing the Mufti to quit the Congress and float the PDP.

Within three years the PDP emerged as a front ranking regional party allowing a chance to the Mufti to fulfill his lifeís mission of heading a non-NC government.

His selection has dampened the Congress spirits and the reaction from the Panthers Party, Jammu Students Federation, Jammu Mukti Morcha, State Morcha and Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been on the known lines. The leaders of these organisations said for the first time the Jammu region had got a chance to have a Chief Minister. They said the way Mufti Sayeed was chosen for the post of Chief Minister has vindicated our stand that Kashmir-based leaders and bureaucrats were for aggravating the level of discrimination of the Jammu region.

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