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Govt Formation
Sonia Gandhi to consult J&K leaders today
Anita Katyal and Faraz Ahmad
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 28
With the results of seven-phase J&K assembly elections throwing up a hung assembly, jockeying for forming the next government in the state began simultaneously in Jammu and New Delhi today. Though the overall Congress tally has come down to 17 this time — three less than the previous polls, courtesy BJP’s Amarnath Yatra agitation in Jammu — it is now clear that the party will play the kingmaker’s role.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi held consultations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other top leaders on Sunday evening to discuss the outcome of the polls and chalk out future strategy. The core group meeting was also attended by Defence Minister A K Antony, party general secretary in-charge of J&K Prithviraj Chavan and Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel.

After about an hour-long meeting, party sources said no decision was taken as Gandhi will consult some senior leaders of J&K tomorrow. After the meeting AICC general secretary in charge of J&K Prithviraj Chauhan said, “I am going there tomorrow and will talk to all the leaders. Only then we will decide our next course of action.”

Simultaneously, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and J&K PCC chief Saifuddin Soz have been asked to come here for consultations with the party high command. Therefore, there are indications that the Congress may take a few days before it makes a formal announcement. Although there was no official word from the Congress party, there were ample indications that the party favoured aligning with the National Conference this time. Though it has a choice between the NC and the PDP.

“Our attempt would be to give a stable and lasting government to the state,” party spokesman Manish Tiwari said. On the face of it a stable and lasting government is possible only if the Congress with 17 seats aligns with the NC, which has got 28 seats. Their sum total comes out to be 45, which means they can stake claim to form the government.

The NC, having stayed out of power for six years, is naturally keen to head the next government. Many NC leaders, including its president Omar Abdullah and patron Farooq Abdullah, have clearly indicated that they may align with the Congress party.

On the other hand, the PDP led by former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Sayeed, has won 21 seats and emerged as the second biggest political force in the state. But former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is leading the Congress in the state, did not have a very comfortable relationship with the PDP, especially in the last lap during the Amarnath agitation. Besides PDP, which is more forceful about state autonomy and for improved relations with Pakistan, is more insistent on its political agenda.

Its MP Mehbooba Mufti, while not rejecting the idea of forming the next government, said, “We will share government with any other party only on the basis of a CMP. Otherwise, we have no problem sitting in the Opposition.”

But even as Azad indicated that the Congress may also seek support to lead the next government, there were indication from the party high command that the Congress was not averse to supporting an NC-led government. A Congress source said, “The party with more seats will naturally lead the coalition.”



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