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J&K: Change of political guard?

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar | August 21, 2005 00:26 IST

As the final word on the change of political guard in Jammu and Kashmir is still awaited from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, political pundits and rumour mongers seem to have a field day in Srinagar with all sorts of wild rumours doing the rounds in local political circles.

The latest rumour said that National Conference headed by Omar Abdullah was moving fast towards some future alignment with the Congress.

The personal friendship of Omar and Sachin Pilot, the son of senior Congress leader, late Rajesh Pilot, is quoted as the building block for the emerging NC-Congress bonhomie.

"I know nothing about these rumours. We cannot ignore the fact that our party fought the 2002 assembly elections in alliance with the People's Democratic Party. We shared seats with the PDP and fielded common candidates to fight the NC. It is very unlikely that we change horses mid stream. Let me tell you that the Congress high command does not believe in imposing arrangements on its state units," said Peerzada Mohammad Syed, the president of the Pradesh Congress Committee when asked to comment on some news stories, which referred to the so-called growing proximity between the Congress and the NC.

The feeding channels for these rumours are provided by the fact that the Congress and the PDP entered into a political agreement after the 2002 elections whereby the PDP would hold the chief minister's post for the first three years and thereafter the Congress would nominate its choice for the coveted post.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has to hand over the reins of power to the Congress nominee by November 2005 when he completes his three year term in office.

Mufti has repeated many times that he would respect the terms of agreement with the Congress and step down making way for the Congress candidate when time comes.

The local Congress leaders have been making fervent appeals to the Congress president for change of guard in the state maintaining that unless the Congress got into the driving seat in Jammu and Kashmir, its chances for improving the political lot would remain jeopardised.

In the 84-member state legislative assembly, the Congress has 20 seats, 5 from the Valley and the rest from the Jammu and the Ladakh regions of the state.

Local Congress leaders are campaigning for Union Parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has emerged as the strongest and the most favoured choice for the chief ministership in the strife torn state.

While nobody questions Azad's vast political experience and his proven capacities of leadership, one emotional hiccup is haunting even his strongest supporters.

Though Kashmiri speaking, Azad belongs to the Doda district in the Jammu region and he would be the first non-Kashmiri chief minister of the state since 1947 when Kashmir was freed from the yoke of the autocratic Dogra Maharaja's rule.

"There is nothing repugnant in the state's constitution, which would debar Azad from assuming the chief ministerial responsibilities, but the long established practice of having the chief minister from the Valley where the majority of the state's population lives and where the basic problem of separatist violence exists is a ticklish issue the Congress high command would have to coolly decide," said a political observer.

Both the PDP and the Congress are jointly claiming the credit for the past three years of some "semblance of normalcy" in the state, but the PDP headed by Mufti has been the inventor of what is locally called the 'doctrine of the healing touch'.

Though many locals are cynical about whether or not the healing touch has really reached to the common man's doorsteps, there is no doubt that the winds of peace between India and Pakistan have lashed Kashmir during Mufti's tenure.

While as his rivals in the NC call it pure serendipity, the PDP argues why such serendipity didn't happen in the decades of NC's power? Either way, the mainstream political scene is in a state of flux.

"The suspense would only end once Sonia announces her decision. Till such times, it is bated breath for both the Congress and the PDP in the state." These words of a local journalist aptly describe the current political storm in Jammu & Kashmir though there is no turbulence in the still waters of the local Dal Lake.

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