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Coalition clashes put J&K govt in spot

Josy Joseph in New Delhi | March 23, 2004 12:16 IST

The Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led Jammu and Kashmir government is in trouble with skirmishes between the People's Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the Congress, threatening to upset its applecart.

Sources told disagreements have reached a level where dissolution of the state assembly was mulled over by Sayeed and his PDP colleagues. 

Congress leaders recently called on Jammu and Kashmir Governor S K Sinha with their grievances.

Sources said the Congress leaders told the governor that any recommendation by Sayeed for a snap poll would not be the unanimous decision of the ruling coalition.

What has caused the most strain to the coalition is the Congress refusal to back the Permanent Residents (Disqualification) Bill in the state legislative council.

The bill seeks to bar women from Jammu and Kashmir who have married non-locals from inheriting property in the state.

The Congress had supported the bill in the legislative assembly, where it was unanimously passed. But the party later demanded it be referred to a legislative committee after Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened.

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The PDP and the Opposition National Conference, whose support base is the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, are now slugging it out over who is more sincere to the Kashmiri identity. The National Conference accuses the PDP of lacking sincerity in passing the bill.

There is widespread fear, especially in Congress circles, that the PDP could go in for a mid-term election.

"The fear of dissolution is real. The Congress move (meeting the governor) was prompted by speculation about a snap poll," a senior government official in Kashmir said.

Sayeed's anger with the Congress is apparent. The PDP refused to hand over the Baramullah Lok Sabha seat to the Congress and announced its candidate for the seat -- Nizam-ud-Din Bhat, a journalist-turned-politician.

Veteran Congress leader Ghulam Rasool Kar has already started campaigning in Baramullah as the party nominee.

The PDP-Congress standoff may also lead to Sayeed refusing to campaign for the Congress outside the state. A senior Congress leader told in New Delhi that the party wanted to arrange election meetings to be addressed by Sayeed outside J&K. "He is yet to give us a formal commitment," the Congress leader said.

If the ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir collapses, it could have serious repercussions for the peace process in the state. A large part of the Centre's peace efforts in Kashmir is dependent on Sayeed's 'healing touch' policy.

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