Friday, May 30, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Congress CMs arrive for conclave
S.P. Sharma
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, May 29
It was almost after a gap of 14 turmoiled years that a number of VVIPs, three Chief Ministers and senior leaders of the AICC moved out together for sightseeing the Mughal Gardens and the Dal Lake, here this afternoon.

The Chief Ministers of the 15 Congress-ruled states are reaching here to participate in the conclave which will be inaugurated here tomorrow by Ms Sonia Gandhi.

The PCC president, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is the host for the conclave, accompanied the Chief Ministers for the sightseeing. Ms Ambika Soni and Mr Moti Lal Vora were also with them.

The Chief Ministers who went to places which were the destinations for film shootings before terrorism started here are Mr Virbhadra Singh (Himachal Pradesh), Mr Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) and Mr Ibobi Singh (Manipur).

The Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, was the first to reach here this morning and he proceeded to Baramula where he met some Sikh residents and also visited the Army regiment in which he had once served. Baramula has a large population of Sikhs who are continuing to stay there despite threats of militants.

Mr Virbhadra Singh was received by the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma, at the airport. Mr Virbhadra Singh spent the last night at Jammu where he had reached from Bharmour where he was campaigning for the Assembly elections.

The security around the Dal Lake and other tourist spots was tightened with the deployment of the BSF and the CRPF in strength. The movement of the Chief Ministers was being kept as a closely-guarded secret and mediapersons were even not informed about their visit to these places.

It is believed that the conclave is being held here as another step after the public meeting of the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to send a signal that normalcy is returning to the valley. This is after 1988 that the Congress President and so many Chief Ministers are coming here. The terrorism had so far kept VVIPs away from Kashmir.

There are indications that the Chief Ministers of the northern states, including Capt Amarinder Singh, Mr Virbhadra Singh, Mr N.D. Tiwari and Ms Sheila Dikshit, might utilise the opportunity to discuss their regional problems when they are free from the conclave.

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