Congress Wants Sayeed To Remain Chief Minister
15 October 2005
The Hindustan Times
New Delhi: The Congress does not want Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to quit, at least not now, despite a 2002 accord that he would govern only for three years in a power-sharing arrangement. The October 8 earthquake that killed some 1,300 people in Jammu and Kashmir is one of the reasons why the Congress has decided to let Sayeed, leader of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), continue and not to replace him with Ghulam Nabi Azad, well-informed party sources said. Another reason is that the party does not want to lose the services of state party leader Azad, the first choice to replace Sayeed, as Parliamentary Affairs Minister. The Congress and the PDP fought the elections as allies in September-October 2002 and the former won more seats. But the PDP insisted on ruling the state in the first half of the Assembly's six-year term. 'We don't want to be seen as disturbing the political system when the state has been hit by disaster,' a Congress source said. The Jammu and Kashmir administration is presently bogged down by massive efforts to provide relief to the thousands hit hard by the earthquake. Although the Congress has not made public its mind and Azad declared recently that Sayeed would step down, the sources said that there would not be any change in the top post 'for the next few months'. The expected change of guard had sparked intense speculation in Jammu and Kashmir with a section of the Congress party demanding a Hindu Chief Minister and another section insisting that Azad, a Muslim from Doda, should alone rule the state at the head of a Congress-PDP alliance. According to Congress sources, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are 'very happy' with Sayeed's functioning - although not everyone in the state Congress shares the same view. 'In fact, (Sayeed) is dearer to Gandhi than any other Congressmen in the state,' said one party leader on condition of anonymity. 'After all he is a former Congressman.' Both Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have visited the quake-hit areas of the state. The Prime Minister has announced Rs 6.42-billion central aid for relief and rehabilitation of the quake-affected people. Congress leaders said the state government was determined to win the hearts of Kashmiris at a time like this. 'So we do not want to give an impression that power is more important,' the leader explained. Manmohan Singh and Gandhi are not also keen to drop Azad from the central cabinet. As Parliamentary Affairs Minister, he is considered a 'good floor manager' and has enjoyed good relations with almost all political parties including the Left. 'They do not want to lose his services at the Centre. The Congress is aware he is the best Parliamentary Affairs Minister they can have now,' a party leader confided.