PDP quits Kashmir government over Amarnath land row (Second Lead)

June 28th, 2008 - 11:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, June 28 (IANS) The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Saturday withdrew from Jammu and Kashmir’s Congress-led coalition government following differences over land allotment to the Amarnath shrine authorities, sparking a political crisis in the poll-bound state. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who arrived here Saturday from London, convened a meeting of senior party leaders and legislators at the Gupkar Road residence of her father and party patron, former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who is currently abroad.

After the meeting, Mehbooba told reporters that her party had decided to withdraw from the government because of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s “indifference to the people’s demand to rescind the forest land allotment order to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB)”.

The PDP ministers sent their resignation letters to Azad and a letter was also sent to Governor N.N. Vohra informing him of the party’s decision, she said.

Azad told the Doordarshan here that his government was stable and was not going to fall.

The controversy began March 5 when the state cabinet allotted 40 hectares of forest land in Baltal of north Kashmir to the SASB for providing facilities to Hindu pilgrims.

SASB chief executive Arun Kumar - who was transferred Saturday - said the board would erect concrete structures on the land.

The state government then rushed to clarify that the land had not been allotted to the board but “temporarily diverted” to it and that SASB was not authorised to build permanent structures there.

Since then, the land allotment has led to violent protests and counter-protests both in the Valley and the Jammu region.

With the PPP withdrawal, the Azad government has lost its majority.

The PDP and the Congress formed an alliance in 2002 after the National Conference was voted out of power in the assembly elections that year.

The Congress has 22 legislators in the 87-member legislative assembly. It also has the support of four independent members - Babu Singh, Nawang Rigzin Jora, Haji Nisar Ali and Aijay Khan, all of whom are ministers.

Twelve other independent legislators and two Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) legislators also supported the coalition government.

The BJP has a lone legislator in the state assembly and the Panthers Party headed by Bhim Singh has four legislators.

Singh had already withdrawn his support to the coalition government though initially his party was a part of the ruling alliance.

The legislative assembly has a six-year term that ends in November, by which time the new house must be in place.

Under an agreement between the PDP and the Congress, Sayeed was chief minister from 2002 to November 2005, when Congress nominee Azad took over from him.

The National Conference headed by Omar Abdullah holds the numbers to keep Azad in power if it supports him from outside without joining the government. But, given the highly charged public mood in the Kashmir Valley against the land allotment to the SASB and the National Conference’s public stand on the issue, Abdullah is not likely to support Azad.

This shifts the focus on Governor Vohra, who took oath of office only this week. He would have to use all his past experience and wisdom to decide the fate of the state government.

Legally, Azad cannot now recommend the dissolution of the state assembly since he no longer has the majority to make such a recommendation.

He can at best ask the governor to give him time to prove his majority on the floor of the house - but given the present mix and the division of seats in the assembly, such a majority cannot be managed without the support of the National Conference.

Azad can continue in power if the National Conference legislators abstain from attending the assembly when he seeks a vote of confidence.

Abdullah has called a meeting of the party’s core group Sunday to discuss the situation.

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