M A I N   N E W S

Azad to take baton from Mufti
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 27
The Congress will take over the reins of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir with Ghulam Nabi Azad as the Chief Minister.

AICC general secretary Ambika Soni announced here today that Mr Azad would assume office at an “austere ceremony” in Srinagar on November 2. The sensitive border state will have a Chief Minister from the Congress after nearly three decades.

Ms Soni said that the decision to appoint Mr Azad as Chief Minister was taken after consultations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today.

She said that details of government formation would be worked out after talking to other coalition partners.

Soon after the decision was taken, Ms Soni called up state Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and PDP leader and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti.

“They welcomed the decision heartily and assured of full cooperation,” Ms Soni said.

She said that Mr Sayeed suggested that change of guard should take place on the scheduled date of November 2. Ms Soni said the swearing-in function would be held in a way that no disruption was caused to the earthquake relief efforts.

She said Congress President Sonia Gandhi had held extensive discussions over the past five days with the top PDP and Congress leaders of the state in Delhi. Ms Soni said that initiatives taken by the Prime Minister and the Congress President in the past three years had helped change the atmosphere in the state. The Congress, she said, had extended full cooperation to the Mufti government. She said the discussions about the Cabinet formation will be held in the next few days.

Asked who would be the Deputy Chief Minister from the PDP, Ms Soni said that the matter was yet to be discussed.

Mr Azad, 56, who is the Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development, hails from Doda district in Jammu region. He will be the first Chief Minister of the state from the Jammu region.

After the announcement, Mr Azad vowed to strengthen the peace process and providing relief to the quake-affected people. Mr Azad said he would work for development of all three regions of the state.

A staunch loyalist of the Gandhi family, Mr Azad has been in politics for over three decades. He joined the Union Cabinet as a Deputy Minister in 1982.

Earlier in the day, some Congress MLAs and MLCs met Ms Soni to clarify their position on yesterday’s offer of resignation to build pressure for a change of guard in the state. With the Congress Central leadership taking a strict view of yesterday’s utterances to the media over resignations and warning of disciplinary action, state Roads and Bridges Minister G.M. Mir said that some MLAs had given statements about resignation in “over-enthusiasm.”

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