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Chances of Kashmir coalition fade

The chances of a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir between the opposition Congress and People's Democratic Party faded Monday, as leaders differed over who should get the state's top post and whether to hold talks with separatist Islamic militants. Meanwhile, the ruling NC declared it was still in the running...

india Updated: Oct 14, 2002 20:55 IST

The chances of a coalition government inJammu and Kashmir between the opposition Congress and People's Democratic Party faded Monday, as leaders differed over who should get the state's top post and whether to hold talks with separatist Islamic militants.



Meanwhile, the ruling National Conference, which has dominated Kashmir politics for more than 50 years, declared it was still in the running to form a government, although the election result was seen as a rejection of the party.



After a month of staggered voting in Jammu-Kashmir state, no party won a majority in the 87-seat legislature when the results were announced Thursday.



The National Conference won the most seats, 28, but opposition parties, independents and ruling party defectors combined won more. Also some top leaders in the National Conference lost their seats. The two largest opposition parties, the Congress and People's Democratic Party, were expected to muster enough support to form a coalition government by the constitutional deadline of Oct. 17. But after the latest meetings on Monday, that became less certain.



Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, president of the People's Democratic Party, or PDP, which won 16 seats, said Monday that it differed with Congress over fundamental issues.



"The Congress party is not ready to hold unconditional dialogue with separatists and we should reach a minimum agreement before we go ahead with the alliance," said Sayeed, who also wants to be chief minister of the state.



His party has called for talks with Muslim rebel leaders to end a separatist insurgency that has killed more than 61,000 people in the Himalayan enclave since 1989. He said his party would sit in opposition rather than cooperate with the National Conference if an alliance with Congress is not possible.



The separatist militants want independence for Kashmir from India or its merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the region, and India accuses Pakistan of fomenting the rebellion. Pakistan says it supports the militants' cause, but denies giving them material aid.



Meanwhile, Congress named its leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, as its official candidate for chief minister on Monday. Azad said he would seek an agreement with Sayeed's group and other "like-minded parties and individuals," but would still try to form a government if he fails.



"Congress is of the opinion that it should head the government but the PDP wants the lead role," Azad said. Congress claims to have gathered enough support to hold 33 seats, but that's still well shy of a majority.



Azad is Muslim but not from the Kashmir Valley. PDP leaders say the Muslim majority wants someone from the Kashmiri heartland of Jammu-Kashmir state.



Meanwhile, the National Conference party said Monday it may try to form the government despite the defeat of its top officials, and claimed it had already found two independent legislators to join its 28 seats.



"We are still in the race (to form a government) and people are joining us as we go along," said Farooq Abdullah, the caretaker administrator of Jammu-Kashmir. He is the outgoing chief minister and father of the National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.

First Published: Oct 14, 2002 18:58 IST