Mufti Meets Sonia, PM As Cong Reaches Out To Omar’s Rivals15 September 2010
The Indian Express
New Delhi: For the first time since the 2008 Assembly elections in J&K, the Congress high command has begun “breaking the ice” with the PDP, suggesting that both parties may be looking at the option of reviving an old power alliance in the state. PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed held separate meetings with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday night. His daughter Mehbooba Mufti, who participated in the all-party meeting on Kashmir today, signalled to the Congress, which is a partner in the Omar Abdullah coalition, that her party could be a better and more acceptable alternative to the NC. The Valley situation was discussed in detail at the meetings Mufti Sayeed had with Sonia and Singh. The PDP has not officially acknowledged these meetings to avoid implications inside Kashmir, and also because the party does not want a public debate on renewal of ties with the Congress at this juncture. As first reported by The Indian Express, Sonia Gandhi had spoken to Mufti Sayeed and Mehbooba on Eid day. “The process of reconciliation has been slowly going on. There were some difficult times but now relations have started to smoothen,” a senior PDP leader told The Indian Express. Relations between the two parties plummeted after the PDP decided to leave the Congress-led coalition during the Amarnath agitation in 2008, leading to the collapse of the Ghulam Nabi Azad government. Later, the Congress decided to go with the NC to form a government. In July, the PDP did not join the all-party meet called by Omar despite a request from the Prime Minister. Signs of change in the attitude of the Congress high command became visible as the situation in the Valley continued to slide. The PDP waited in the wings as pressure mounted on the Omar government. And two days ago, the Cabinet Committee on Security, in a public snub to the state government, underlined that there was “governance deficit” in Kashmir. Contacted by The Indian Express, Mufti Sayeed declined to discuss his engagements in New Delhi. “Mehboobaji attended the all-party meet today and that is it. We are here for a few days and will see how it goes,” he said. At the meeting today, Mehbooba reminded everyone present that her party had also ruled the state in coalition with the Congress but there was never such large-scale violence as was being witnessed now. Without naming Omar, she was quoted as having said: “Unlike those who spend more time in New Delhi rather than try and control the situation, I go to far-off villages to meet those who have lost their kin in firing by security forces or in stone-pelting. But there is a campaign by opponents to dub me pro-separatists. This is wrong.” Speaking to reporters later, Mehbooba said there was no readymade solution to the problem. “They (protesters) are our own boys. Why should they be fired upon? Why can’t we talk to them unconditionally? The Centre must re-start the process that was begun under then Prime Minister Vajpayee. The situation now is so bad that cosmetic changes won’t work,” she said. Asked if her party was ready to replace the NC as the Congress’s coalition partner in the state, she said: “The Congress and NC have to decide if they want to stick together.” The NC leadership said the party would wait till the all-party delegation visits Kashmir and the Centre takes a decision. “It is good that an all-party delegation will visit Kashmir. The (Central) government is trying to create a consensus which is a good thing,” said J&K Finance Minister Abdul Raheem Rather who was part of the NC delegation. “We put forth our views and demands at the meeting today. We think the government (Centre) is serious. Let us see what happens.” The NC said any move to weaken Omar could end up strengthening the hands of the separatists. After the meeting, NC chief and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah maintained that there was “no trust deficit” and that the Prime Minister had “praised” the Chief Minister. He also said there was no threat to his son’s government.