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Omar to lead, with Congress deputy

india Updated: Dec 31, 2008 11:03 IST
Saroj Nagi

It is a generational shift to provide stable governance to a state that went through turmoil before elections.

Former Union Minister Omar Abdullah will lead the National Conference-Congress coalition in Jammu and Kashmir, with the two parties coming together after over two decades.

The Congress will be part of the government. “We have an equal stake in the improvement of the lot of people in the state,’’ said Abdullah after a 30-minute interaction with Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her 10, Janpath, residence.

As the Congress will participate in the government, the deputy chief minister will be from its ranks. The nominee, from Jammu region, will lend regional balance to the team led by Abdullah, who represents Ganderbal in the Valley.

Among the contenders for the post are former Assembly Speaker Tara Chand, a Dalit, and two-term MLA Sham Lal Sharma who won from Akhnoor by notching up the largest victory margin in the assembly polls after former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Although no Kashmiri Pandit won in the assembly polls, the community would find a place in the cabinet, as well as in the Upper House, to strike a social balance.

Abdullah is likely to take oath as chief minister in the first week of January, before Moharram on January 8 and the expiry of Governor’s Rule on January 10. A small team will be sworn in first and the cabinet expanded subsequently. Asked whether the two sides will go for a rotational arrangement, Abdullah said that the issue “did not figure’’ in his talks with Sonia, in an indication that the NC will lead the government for six years.

A joint NC-Congress team will work out the modalities of government formation including the choice of deputy chief minister, the number of ministers and portfolios.

The Congress team is likely to include J&K in-charge Prithviraj Chavan, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and state unit chief Saifuddin Soz.

People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said the Congress-NC alliance was one of convenience. “When we made alliance with the Congress in 2002, it was agenda-sharing. We had an agenda — Common Minimum Programme. But the NC-Congress coalition is merely for power sharing.”

Unless the PDP walks out, both Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s party and the NC will be part of the UPA much like Bihar rivals, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party. Between them, the NC and the Congress hope to have common candidates for the four Rajya Sabha seats and the Lok Sabha elections. Once government formation is over, a coordination Committee of the two parties would draw up the agenda for governance.

The Congress pitched for the NC because it had emerged as the single largest party and the two together had the numbers to provide a stable government. Between them the NC (28) and the Congress (17) have a clear majority in the House and hope to pitch for common candidates for the four Rajya Sabha vacancies and the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The All Party Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said Omar would bring a “new thinking” in governance of the state.

(with Arun Joshi in Jammu and Rashid Ahmad in Srinagar)