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Azad's arrival on Martyrs Day sets off speculation

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar | July 15, 2005 00:25 IST

The unannounced arrival of Union Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on the occasion of Martyrs Day at the martyrs' graveyard and his paying floral tributes to the martyrs has sent the speculation mill in an overdrive mode.

The visit is being largely interpreted as a loud signal that the changeover of power from the Peoples Democratic Party to the Congress on November 2 is no longer a grey area and that the Congress party will take over the reins of power with Azad as the chief minister.

Speculations that the Congress party was gearing up to get into the front seat in Jammu and Kashmir started gaining momentum after Azad on Wednesday paid floral tributes at the graves of the locals martyred in Srinagar in 1931 while fighting the autocratic rule of the Dogra Maharajas.

This was Azad's maiden appearance at Srinagar's downtown martyrs' graveyard and he chose to make the impact felt by going there along with most of the top local Congress leaders.

Mufti went separately to pay his tributes at the graveyard. Azad's maiden appearance at this historic graveyard has stirred all those political analysts and supporters of the ruling PDP who want to believe that Mufti had been given the 'you continue' signal by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

As per the terms of the alliance agreement between the PDP and the Congress, Mufti is to hand over the chief minister's mantle to the Congress nominee at the end of his three year term in office in November 2005.

"The PDP believed that given the present peace overtures between India and Pakistan and the prospect of an extended dialogue between the central government and the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders, New Delhi could ill afford to disturb the delicate power equation in the state which was being nicely handled by the chief minister because of his long experience," a political analyst in Srinagar said.

"Now, Azad appears to be ready to prove himself in this difficult situation," the analyst continued.

Azad started his political career in Delhi three decades back and has been going great guns in central politics.

"Kashmir is a Waterloo of political reputations. But even then, Azad seems to have the courage to throw in his hat," said a newspaper editor who is believed to be close to Azad.

The local Congressmen have been issuing statements that the Congress could not afford to allow Mufti continue as the chief minister unless it agreed to seriously compromise its standing in the state.

It must be recalled that Mufti's relations with Governor S K Sinha have been strained ever since the governor, in his capacity as the chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, decided to hold a two-month long annual yatra to the Amarnath cave instead of the usual one month period which was favoured by the chief minister.

The differences between the two came to a head when the CM stayed away from an important security review meeting held recently by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil for which the invitations were sent out by Raj Bhavan.

Mufti felt snubbed by his exclusion from the list of guests who had been told to stay back for lunch after the meeting.

He decided to stay away from the meeting with his personal staff maintaining that Raj Bhavan had 'breached protocol by excluding the chief minister from the union home minister's luncheon list'.

"These are indications that the Congress could be readying itself for the drop scene on Mufti's chief ministership. But, in Kashmir nothing can be said with absolute surety unless it happens," cautioned a senior leader in the Congress party who did not want to be named.

 


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