Congress, PDP yet to reach agreement
1 April 2006
Srinagar: The process of filing nomination papers for the by-elections to four Assembly segments in Jammu and Kashmir began on Friday. But the main coalition partners, the Congress and the People's Democratic Party, are yet to reach an agreement on contesting. Pattan, Sangrama and Rafiabad in Kashmir and Bhaderwah in Doda district are scheduled to go to the polls on April 24. While the Sangrama seat fell vacant following the assassination of Minister of State for Education Ghulam Nabi Lone, in the other constituencies, the members had resigned. Mohammad Dillawar Mir and Moulvi Iftikhar Ansari were elected from Rafiabad and Pattan on the National Conference ticket in 2002. They resigned to join the PDP, and senior Congress leader Mohammad Sharief Niaz resigned from Bhaderwah to make way for Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to enter the Assembly. Congress opinion divided While the PDP is determined to contest all the three segments in the Valley, the Congress has staked claim to at least two. But within the Congress, opinion is divided; a faction owing allegiance to Mr. Azad is eyeing the contest in Rafiabad, where his confidant Abdul Gani Vakil is keen to fight the PDP's Mir, who defeated him in 2002. 'We are firm on Rafiabad and Sangrama which was held by the PDP; Pattan can be negotiated,' Mr. Vakil said. But Union Minister for Water Resources and Congress Working Committee member Saifuddin Soz proposed that Sangrama be left to the Congress and the two other seats be contested by the PDP. But the coalition will fight all three jointly, he has reportedly suggested to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Prof. Soz, who after his induction into the Union Ministry and the CWC has helped the party gain a foothold in the State, is against the 'friendly contest.' He was recently in Kashmir and held a public meeting in Kupwara where he called for strengthening the coalition. But Mr. Vakil said, 'There is no harm in such a contest if the PDP refuses to agree to our formula.' Proposal sent Sources said the Pradesh Congress Committee president, in consultation with Mr. Azad, had sent this proposal to Ms. Gandhi. 'We are waiting for her decision,' said a senior Congress leader. The PDP has geared up to face the elections in all the three constituencies. Bhaderwah, from where Mr. Azad is contesting, is seen as a 'cakewalk' for him. 'There is no question of leaving any seat in Kashmir. Sangrama was represented by our MLA and two others have resigned just to join our party,' a senior PDP leader told The Hindu . Sources said the former Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who are in Delhi, conveyed the same to the Congress high command. The PDP is all set to have a straight contest with the National Conference, but in Sangrama the NC may support Shuaib Lone, son of the slain Minister who was denied ticket by the PDP.