Young Omar Abdullah to be next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir (Roundup)

December 30th, 2008 - 8:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiSrinagar/New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) Omar Abdullah, the president of the National Conference (NC), will become the youngest-yet chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, with Congress Tuesday giving its nod for a coalition with the NC, the single largest party in the new state assembly.The uncertainty about the formation of a new government following a fractured verdict in the recently concluded elections ended Tuesday after Abdullah, 38, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the national capital.

“There will be a coalition government of the Congress and the National Conference in the state. Omar Abdullah will be the next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir,” senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan told reporters after the Abdullah-Gandhi meeting.

The third generation charismatic scion of the Abdullah family that has ruled the state off and on in the last 60 years will be the youngest-yet chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

An elated Abdullah, flanking Chavan outside Sonia Gandhi’s 10 Janpath house in New Delhi, said: “I am happy Gandhi accepted this proposal (of coalition government).”

“It is going to be a government of equal partnership.”

“Till now, the only thing that has been decided is that I will head the government. The rest of the modalities will be finalised later.”

The assembly elections, which saw a huge turnout of 63 percent, threw up a fractured mandate with no single party getting the 44 legislators needed to form a government.

The NC, which emerged as the single largest party in the newly elected house, has 28 legislators. The Congress has 17. The two parties together make 45 - one above the required number.

The state has been without an elected government since July when the former coalition government fell apart after Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) withdrew its support to Congress chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Abdullahs, the first political family of the state, will re-emerge on the chair, snatched from them six years ago after the Congress-PDP alliance kept the NC at bay following 2002 elections. The NC had emerged as the single largest party in the last elections as well.

The iconic Sheikh Abdullah, the NC founder, ruled Jammu and Kashmir off and on till his death in 1982. His son Farooq succeeded him and was chief minister thrice (1982-84, 1987-90 and 1996-2002).

Jubilations began in the NC camp in the Kashmir Valley, as TV channels flashed the news of the Congress endorsing the young Abdullah as the next chief minister of the state.

“It is a victory for the National Conference and we are relieved to hear the news. The Congress and our party will definitely do better and live up to the expectations of those who voted us to power jointly,” said NC leader Gulam Ahmad Saloora.

Party supporters started gathering at the Gupkar houses of Omar Abdullah and his father Farooq, the NC patron.

On the other hand, there was palpable gloom in the rival PDP camp, though its president Mehbooba Mufti accepted the new alliance with stoic realism. The PDP will provide the main opposition with 21 seats.

She said her party would play the role of a “good, constructive opposition”.

“We are happy that we are finally going to see a democratically elected government,” Mehbooba said shortly after the announcement of the new coalition.

Common people in Srinagar and in Jammu as well looked to the younger Abdullah to work for the development of the state where a separatist campaign raging since 1989 has claimed over 47,000 lives.

“We have tried Farooq (Abdullah). He was non-serious most of the time. Omar starts his innings with a clean slate. He will have to prove himself and he has the capacity to work hard as well,” said Mehraj-ud-Din, a fruit seller on Residency Road in Srinagar.

The younger generation is definitely enthused by Abdullah’s elevation.

“The days of the old generation are over. We voted for him (Omar) and he has the right understanding of what the new generation of Kashmiris expects from him,” said Haroon Wani, 26, from Abdullah’s Ganderbal constituency.

People in the Hindu-majority Jammu region hoped that the new government would take care of their interests too.

Kuldeep Dogra, a political science student in Jammu University, hoped that the “new government led by Omar Abdullah will take care of Jammu’s welfare”.

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