Power play begins as Kashmir gets another hung house (Roundup)

December 28th, 2008 - 8:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartySrinagar, Dec 28 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir was Sunday headed for another coalition government with both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wooing the Congress after emerging as the biggest two parties in elections that gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) its biggest ever tally of 11 seats.After retaining 28 seats it won in the 2002 elections, an overwhelmed National Conference leader and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said he was ready to shake hands with the Congress to give the troubled state its second but a new coalition government.

Abdullah, who has held the state’s reins three times, gave enough hints that his son Omar Abdullah, now a Lok Sabha member, could be the new chief minister in the event of a National Conference-Congress alliance.

At the same time, former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s PDP, which increased its tally mainly in the Kashmir Valley from 16 to 21, also indicated that it was ready to do business again with the Congress — despite having brought down the Congress-led government only months ago.

The Congress has not revealed its mind beyond saying that any new coalition arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir, where a separatist campaign raging since 1989 has claimed over 70,000 lives, will be decided by its president Sonia Gandhi.

As National Conference supporters celebrated mainly in the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, BJP workers were ecstatic in the Hindu dominated Jammu region where it won a record 11 seats.

The BJP had only one seat in the last assembly, indicating that it had benefitted enormously from the Muslim-Hindu polarisation that gripped the state in July-August over the Amarnath shrine land row.

“We will be the nationalist opposition in the assembly,” declared BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, ruling out any cooperation with either the National Conference or PDP. The National Conference and PDP also announced they would not team up with the BJP, implicitly giving the Congress the kingmaker’s role.

“We will approach the Congress formally for an alliance and after that we will stake claim to power in the state tomorrow,” National Conference president Omar Abdullah told reporters in Srinagar.

Omar’s father and party patron Farooq Abdullah hinted he would like to continue as the Rajya Sabha member, a move expected to clear the decks for his son to become the chief minister.

Although the Congress tally came down from its previous 20, it managed to get 17 seats despite the onslaught of the BJP in Jammu region.

All key players in the state — former chief ministers Ghulam Nabi Azad, Farooq Abdullah and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — won their seats easily.

The younger Abdullah avenged his 2002 defeat in Ganderbal in north Kashmir, defeating the very same PDP nominee who had humiliated him six years ago.

His father Farooq Abdullah won from both Hazratbal and Sonawar in Srinagar, the urban hub of the separatist campaign.

Mufti Sayeed, a former Indian home minister, made it to the assembly from Anantnag in south Kashmir. His daughter Mehbooba won from Wachi, also in south Kashmir.

Azad retained his Bhaderwah seat in the Muslim-majority mountainous area of Doda, which falls under Jammu region.

A disappointed Azad did not hide his unhappiness over the BJP’s huge gains. He blamed it on communal polarisation. “It does worry me. (It is an) outcome of the unfortunate things that happened in July-August,” said the Congress leader, referring to the Amarnath land controversy.

The other prominent winners included Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Party (JKDP) chief Ghulam Hassan Mir and Hakim Muhammad Yasin of the People’s Democratic Front (PDF).

The Panthers Party of Bhim Singh won three seats in the Jammu region.

Speculation mounted if the Congress would be able to overcome the bitterness of its divorce with PDP and form a coalition again with it.

The National Conference and Congress have 28 and 17 seats between them, giving them the magic number of 44 needed to form a government.

Besides, the National Conference backed an independent who won from Nobra in Ladakh region. Two other winners, Hakim Muhammad Yasin (PDF) and Ghulam Hassan Mir (JKDP), have declared their proximity to the Congress.

But even as a National Conference-Congress coalition appeared a distinct reality, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti said that anything was possible.

“Jammu and Kashmir is not like any other state in the country. Many things will have to be considered before final alliances are worked out”, she said. “Our coalition (PDP-Congress) has been one of the best coalitions that brought change in the state.”

Jammu and Kashmir’s seven-phase elections from Nov 17 to Dec 24 saw a high voter participation of 63 percent in defiance of separatist calls for boycott. On Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the mass voting a victory for democracy over terrorism.

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