Congress yet to name Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister

January 1st, 2009 - 7:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi
Jammu, Jan 1 (IANS) The Congress is yet to find its nominee for the deputy chief minister in its coalition government with the National Conference (NC) in Jammu and Kashmir, due to be sworn in on Jan 5. National Conference’s Omar Abdullah will be the chief minister and Congress will hold the number two position, to which is a party leader from the Jammu region is expected to be named. However, the party has not yet selected anyone for the post.

“We have not decided anything as yet. It would be known soon,” a senior Congress leader said without citing any reasons for the delay. But the reasons seem obvious.

First, there is no senior Congress leader among the winning candidates who could fill the slot. Former deputy chief minister Mangat Ram Sharma, who could have been an obvious choice, lost the election from Jammu West constituency.

If the party wants a Hindu for the post, then it has only two legislators who have won more than once from constituencies in the Jammu plains. Former speaker Tara Chand has been elected for a third time from Chhamb constituency and Raman Bhalla from Gandhi Nagar constituency.

A strong section of the party backs Tara Chand, citing his seniority. However, his opponents claim he is too soft and has little administrative experience to handle the job.

Bhalla was a minister of state in the previous Congress-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coalition government. However, according to party insiders, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is not in his favour.

Azad is said to favour Sham Lal, brother of his key lieutenant Madan Lal Sharma. However, Sharma was in trouble in the party after he alleged Tara Chand was involved in a sex scandal and he was only let off after he personally apologised to party president Sonia Gandhi.

Besides, Sham Lal is practically a first-time legislator. In the outgoing house, he was elected after his brother Sharma vacated the Akhnoor seat upon getting elected to parliament from the Jammu-Poonch constituency.

As his second choice, Azad favours former chief secretary B.R. Kundal, who neither contested the polls nor has the requisite political experience. “Azad sees both Kundal and Sham Lal as the men who could become his voice in the government,” a Congress leader said.

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