Suspense clouds government formation in Jammu and Kashmir (Roundup)

December 29th, 2008 - 11:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiSrinagar/New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) Uncertainty prevailed over the formation of a new government in Jammu and Kashmir Monday even as the National Conference, which has emerged as the single largest party, indicated that a coalition arrangement with the Congress was likely.The assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate with no single party able to manage absolute majority of 44 legislators needed to form government. Hectic political parleys were on throughout the day - in Srinagar and in New Delhi - a day after poll results for the new 87-member assembly were declared Sunday.

National Conference president Omar Abdullah, who was earlier nominated as the party’s chief ministerial candidate, flew down to New Delhi for talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other party leaders on a possible alliance.

“Coalition itself is a compromise and since the basic agenda of the National Conference doesn’t differ from that of the Congress, it should not be a problem,” Abdullah told reporters in the national capital.

Till late Monday evening, the National Conference, with 28 seats, continued to woo the Congress that has 17 legislators and holds the key to form a coalition government. The two parties together can cross the halfway mark of 44.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which emerged as the second largest party in the state assembly with 21 legislators, was also trying to lure the Congress.

PDP sources said the party was prepared to support the Congress government from outside for a full six-year term. “We can support a Congress government without sharing power for the full six year term of the assembly,” said a PDP leader.

Keeping its cards close to the chest, the Congress, however, said all options were open.

“All options are open. People are at work and consultations are going on (to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir),” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters in New Delhi.

Similar comments came from senior Congress leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Jammu. “We are discussing the issue. Once the arrangement is clinched, we will announce it.”

A factor that could go in favour of the National Conference is its announcing Omar Abdullah as its chief ministerial candidate, which the Congress prefers, a National Conference source said.

The flip-flop by National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah, initially saying he was the party’s chief ministerial candidate and later endorsing his son’s name for the top job, was also influenced by the signals the party received from the Congress, the sources said.

“The Congress feels it can do business better with Omar Abdullah, who it feels is more dependable and firm,” a Congress leader in Srinagar said requesting not to be named.

Mehbooba Mufti, PDP president, is trying hard to woo the Congres. “It is for the Congress to decide (on the alliance). It has to see with which party it could consolidate the gains made in the state over the past five and half years since the 2002 elections,” Mehbooba said in Srinagar.

She said her party was still part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and there was no reason why the alliance cannot be revived in the state.

“The Congress has a history with the National Conference… It has a history with us too. They have to decide which party they want to align with,” she said.

However, the PDP-Congress alliance faces an arithmetic hitch as it cannot cross the 44 mark. The Congress plus PDP makes 38 - six short of the required number.

The former Congress-PDP coalition, which ruled the state from November 2002 to July 2008, fell apart before completing the term after the PDP withdrew support to the Congress.

The Congress’ Azad also welcomed the junior Abdullah as chief ministerial choice of the National Conference.

“We welcome Omar Abdullah as the party’s chief ministerial candidate. I am happy that the controversy between the father and the son over the issue is over.”

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