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Ghulam [Images] Nabi Azad will be the next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir [Images] at the head of a Congress-led coalition.
Sonia Gandhi [Images], overcoming dilemma, chose to secure power for the party, ending uncertainty over transfer of power agreed with the PDP three years ago.
Fifty-six year-old Azad, Union minister for urban development, would be sworn-in as chief minister at a ceremony at Srinagar [Images] on November 2, a day after Diwali and on the eve of Eid.
In his first comments after the newsbreak, Azad said he would strengthen the ongoing peace process.
AICC General Secretary Ambika Soni made the announcement that put to an end all speculation whether incumbent Mufti Mohd Sayeed would get an extension in the post after discussions with Sonia.
With Azad set to become the chief minister, a Congress leader would be at the helm of affairs of the sensitive border state after a gap of some 30 years and the first after the outbreak of militancy in 1989.
The last Congressman who had held the post was Mir Qasim who stepped down in 1975 in the wake of the Indira Gandhi-Shiekh Abdullah accord.
Soni told a special media briefing that Sayeed and Mehbooba have assured Gandhi that their party would give full cooperation to Azad.
She sidestepped questions whether there were plans for inclusion of the outgoing chief minister in the Union cabinet and whether there would be a swapping of portfolios between Congress and PDP. "No discussion has taken place," was her refrain.
Azad had led Congress in the assembly elections in 2002, which saw Congress winning 20 seats, mostly from Jammu region and in a post-poll tie-up with the PDP, Gandhi gave PDP, which got 16 seats, the first go at power enabling Mufti to become the chief minister.
As per the power-sharing agreement, the PDP and Congress were to head the government for three years each with the Mufti's term set to end on November 2.
Gandhi opted for Azad against the background of suggestions that Sayeed be given an extension at least for one year in view of relief and rehabilitation work following the recent killer earthquake as also to further normalise the situation in the militancy-hit state.
Reports had it that the chief minister was frantically trying for an extension though on record he was speaking of handing over the baton on November two as scheduled.
Congress' taking over the reins in Jammu and Kashmir will take up the tally of states, where the party is heading the government, to 16.
Azad, who is also Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, is known for his organisational skills, having led the Congress as its general secretary to victory in several states, including Karnataka, Kerala [Images] and recently in Andhra Pradesh.
Azad had been a close associate of several Congress prime ministers and party chiefs since Rajiv Gandhi and was given key assignments by them in the last 20-odd years.
His moving to Jammu and Kashmir would create one more vacancy in the Union council of Ministers whose expansion is being talked about for several months now.
Shortly before announcement of Azad's name as chief minister, Sonia had a meeting with him as also Soni and held consultations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] who had brokered the 2002 power-sharing accord between the Congress and PDP.
Replying to a volley of questions, Soni said talks will be held with coalition partners like Panthers Party, CPI-M and the Democratic Front on the issue of government-formation.
To a query, she said the new government would be formed on the same pattern of the outgoing ministry.
Earlier in the day, 21 party MLAs, MLCs and ministers from the state came out with a joint statement denying they had resigned from the assembly or offered to do so to press for a Congress-led government.
They said they would abide by whatever decision Sonia would take in the matter.
They came out with the statement after a meeting with Soni as the reported move was seen as a pressure tactic as the Congress high command made it clear that indiscipline would not be tolerated.
Also read: More news from J&K
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