With Farooq's Nod, Omar Likely To Be J&K CM

29 December 2008
The Times of India

Srinagar: With National Conference patron and his father Farooq Abdullah dispelling speculation over the party's chief ministerial nominee, Omar Abdullah is set to assume office once power-sharing talks with Congress are concluded in the next couple of days.The senior Abdullah set the stage for the third generation CM from one of Kashmir's oldest political families when he told the media, 'I have thought over this through the night. Looking at the situation, honestly I think we need a younger man.' With the NC having cleared his name, Omar arrived in Delhi for consultations and his path to the chief ministership looked even clearer with Congress firmly rejecting a last-minute offer from PDP leaders Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba to support a Congress CM for all of six years. Senior Congress sources said the party was not going to be drawn into a 'power game' and would respect the spirit of the Jammu and Kashmir result. 'Naturally, PDP would like to deny NC power but Congress will not consider such a scenario,' they said, pointing out that if the party had been keen on power play, it could have tried playing NC against PDP. Congress president Sonia Gandhi met J&K party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz alongwith party general secretary Prithviraj Chavan. The discussions were more in the nature of a stock-taking exercise with Sonia keen to discuss some of the nitty-gritty of the election results. Discussions with NC are expected to begin in earnest on Tuesday. It is understood that the Congress J&K leadership is keen on a rotational chief ministership as was the case with PDP and keeping in mind the downside of the experiment, wants the first shot at office. Congress leaders are also keen that some independents 'supported' by the party be also counted as part of the tally. Indicating that issues like rotational chief ministership or the possibility of a deputy CM had not been decided, Congress sources did suggest the party will be part of the new government. It was also likely that the NC's claims to leading the coalition would be reflected even if the Congress pushed the rotational model. Hinting at the bargaining, Azad told the media that Congress 'could ask for support just as it could give it'. After arriving in Delhi, Omar said he would await for talks with Congress on Tuesday and said he did not wish to take anything for granted but was 'positive' about the response he had received so far. He was quick to point out that it would be premature to conclude from the results that separatist sentiments had died down in the Valley. 'I think EC's decision to hold polls was endorsed by the people,' he said. In Srinagar, reacting to his father's support, Omar had said, 'A decision has been taken that my name will be put forward at the NC legislature party meeting for the post of chief minister.' There were reports in Srinagar and Delhi of Soz, who is Union water resources minister, being opposed to an alliance with NC given his bitter parting of ways with the regional party. But it was clear by Monday evening that the J&K leadership was in sync with the Congress high command over the 'logic of numbers' in the new assembly. Talking to reporters before leaving for Delhi, Omar said, 'The better option for NC would be to ally with Congress. Roping in Independent MLAs would not be in the interest of the government's stability.' He added, 'The previous Congress-PDP alliance had many Independents supporting it but faced many hardships in running it smoothly.' Omar was cautious in reacting to the idea of offering Congress the first term as CM and given the delicate stage of his negotiations did not want to give PDP a foot in the door. Omar's proximity to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has been commented upon, though he said they had not spoken since the elections. Azad still appears to nurse a grudge against Farooq for NC's refusal to bail out his government despite assuring to do so, after PDP pulled its support in October following the Amarnath land row. Meanwhile, Azad contacted three Independent MLAs - Ghulam Hassan Mir of Gulmarg, Hakeem Mohammad Yasin of Khan Sahib and Charanjit Singh of Kathua - seeking their support. Farooq, too, tried to reach out to Congress by talking to its MLAs and exhorting them to voice their support for an NC-Congress alliance. The Congress high command has apparently decided to seek the opinion of its MLAs from Kashmir over the issue of alliance with NC.