Saturday, July 19, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Mufti persuades Sonia to keep Omar out
S.P. Sharma
Tribune News Service

Omar Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
Omar Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

Jammu, July 18
Alarmed over the reports that Ms Sonia Gandhi, Congress President, was planning to invite the National Conference chief, Mr Omar Abdullah, to her Sunday’s meeting with the Opposition parties to chalk out a strategy before the elections in five states, the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma, have persuaded the Congress high command to keep the NC away. They said the invitation would cast a shadow on the PDP-Congress coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, there were reports that on invitation was to be sent to Mr Omar Abdullah, who is an MP. Mr Somnath Chatterjee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had also confirmed the reports and said he would also invite the NC to a meeting of the Opposition parties called by the CPM on Tuesday.

However, when contacted on telephone this morning, Ms Ambika Soni, general secretary of the AICC looking after the party affairs in Jammu and Kashmir, said there was no move to invite the NC to the meeting. She also denied that the Mufti or Mr Sharma had pressurised the high command to keep the NC out.

The Mufti and Mr Sharma had arrived in Delhi to meet Ms Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders soon after reports about the move to invite Mr Abdullah had appeared in a section of the Press. They met Ms Sonia Gandhi separately.

Although the party leaders claim that the meetings were of a routine manner, sources say that both told Ms Sonia Gandhi that an invitation to the NC would humiliate them and send wrong signals across the state.

Some senior leaders of the NC have been meeting the Congress leaders in Delhi after Mr Omar Abdullah snapped the party’s alliance with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre. With these developments in mind, the Mufti was quick to announce at a meeting in Lucknow that the PDP and the Congress were natural allies.

The PDP-Congress coalition has suffered a jolt with Mr Bhim Singh, chairman of the Panthers Party and a coalition partner in the state, accusing the government of ignoring the Jammu region.

Mr Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, a CPM MLA heading the 13-member group of the Independent legislators supporting the Mufti government, was also not satisfied with the functioning of the coalition government. He had recently grilled the government on the issue of handling of the Baghliar hydroelectric project being constructed by Jaiprakash Industries.

The smaller groups in the coalition have been complaining that the coordination committee headed by Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, PCC president, was not meeting regularly to sort out their grievances. With many coalition partners sulking, the NC is trying to take advantage of the situation.

Certain ministers from among the Independents have publicly expressed dissatisfaction over the “insignificant” portfolios assigned to them, but the real embarrassment for the Mufti has come from Mr Bhim Singh. He has not only ridiculed his government, but also objected to his daughter and president of the PDP, Ms Mehbooba Mufti, opposing the Indian Army fighting Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.

Mr Bhim Singh has said that his party will review its alliance with the PDP on October 16 when the martyrs’ day would be observed in connection with the death of six students here in police firing in 1986. The Panthers Party leader went to the extent of saying that although most legislators in the coalition were from Jammu, only six ministerial berths had been given to the region.

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