Kashmir government fall ends a week of uncertainty (Second Lead)

July 7th, 2008 - 7:17 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

Srinagar, July 7 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad Monday resigned from the office, ending a week of uncertainty about his government but leaving the poll-bound state in a severe political crisis. Governor N.N. Vohra has accepted Azad’s resignation but asked the chief minister to “continue till you further hear from me”, informed sources said.

The sources said the governor has also asked Leader of Opposition Abdur Rahim Rather if his party, the National Conference, would stake the claim to form the government.

However, the National Conference has already made it clear that it was not interested in forming the new government.

“We have already made it clear that we do not want to stake any claim to government formation,” National Conference president Omar Abdullah told IANS after Azad announced his decision to quit office.

Azad, who was to prove his majority in the 87-member assembly Monday, withdrew his motion of confidence before it could be put to vote.

The governor had asked the chief minister to prove his numbers after alliance partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) withdrew its support to the Congress-led government last week amid the differences over allotment of land to the Amarnath shrine management.

Azad delivered a long speech in the assembly highlighting his achievements, focusing mainly on developmental works during the 31 months he led the multi-party coalition government in the state.

After ending his speech, Azad told the members: “I know your conscience says something else while your party whips ask you to do something else.”

Azad then requested Speaker Tara Chand to allow him to withdraw the motion of confidence tabled in the house to prove his numbers.

The chief minister later submitted his resignation to Vohra, who has been left with a few options in the state, which has its own constitution unlike other Indian states. Assembly polls in the state are due in October this year.

The National Conference’s decision not to stake the claim has narrowed down the options for Governor Vohra.

“The governor cannot under the present circumstances ask Azad to continue as the care taker (chief minister) since he has already accepted his resignation,” said a Kashmir constitutional expert.

“The possibility of a care-taker chief minister arises only in case of the dissolution of the assembly, which would be highly inappropriate for Azad to recommend to the governor at this stage,” he said.

“This means, clearly the governor will have to explore new political possibilities before he resorts to his constitutional right to recommend imposition of governor’s rule in the state,” said the expert.

Asked whether there was still a possibility of the governor asking Azad to continue as the care-taker chief minister, the expert said: “He will, in that case, have to defer acceptance of Azad’s resignation in the first place.”

Azad took over as the chief minister in November 2005 as per the terms of an alliance agreement between the Congress and the PDP headed by former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

In the 87-member assembly, the National Conference has 24 members; the PDP 17; the Congress 21 but was also supported by many of 16 independent members and the two legislators of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

Meanwhile, political and constitutional debates apart, the common man in the Kashmir valley was not surprised by the fall of the Azad’s government.

“Both the Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tried to score a point over each other on the issue of the forest land allotment and the same issue has claimed both,” said Muzaffar Ahmad, a college teacher here.

Said Sajad Ahmad, 45, a businessman: “I am not surprised at all by the development. The PDP was in the government and spoke like the opposition.”

Reacting the fall of the Kashmir government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said it was a gimmick plotted together by the Congress and the PDP.

“It is clear there was an understanding between the two coalition partners that the PDP would first withdraw support and then the ruling Congress would kneel down to extremist and separatist forces,” BJP national vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters in Lucknow.

He said there was no other explanation for this “than the fact that there was no need for this stunt when elections to the state were just two months away”.

Naqvi wondered why the PDP withdrew support to the government when the latter had already agreed not to allot any land to the Amarnath shrine board.

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