Govt formation in JK remains a puzzle

Govt formation in JK remains a puzzle

Government formation in Jammu and Kashmir remained a puzzle today with the BJP looking for a partner among the state's mainstream parties but the National Conference (NC) has virtually ruled out a tie up with the saffron party.

BJP, the second largest party with 25 members in the 87-strong Assembly, first explored the option of tying up with NC which has 15 MLAs. The leadership of the two parties is believed to have held discussions which made no headway.

There were persistent reports that the outgoing Chief Minister and NC working President Omar Abdullah met BJP President Amit Shah in New Delhi last night but BJP denied that.

A senior NC leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, made it clear that his party had strong fundamental differences with BJP and that the possibility of NC joining hands with the saffron party was "next to nil".

This was also borne out by brief comments of Omar who insisted that his surprise offer to support PDP, NC's arch rival, stood and he was waiting for PDP to respond. "The offer made to PDP is a serious one and was not made lightly. It was for them to take a call," he told PTI.

Senior BJP leader and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley flew to Jammu to meet the newly elected party MLAs and said thereafter that his party would play a crucial role in government formation as it had the highest popular vote.

The BJP had the "veto power", said Jaitley who was accompanied by party General Secretary Ram Madhav who later flew here tonight to explore possibilites of government formation.

Meanwhile, PDP's silence, refelective of its dilemma, continued with no indication as to whether it would go with BJP or accept the support of the National Conference and the Congress which has 12 members.

The Congress continued to woo PDP with its state President Saif-ud-din Soz urging PDP head Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to lead a coalition of like-minded parties or groups. "That way alone the people's verdict will be respected," Soz said.

Another senior Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said that PDP had enough numbers along with Congress and NC to keep BJP out of the government. "Kashmir (valley) has rejected BJP and to keep it out of power there was heavy polling. Any tie up with BJP will be betrayal," he said.

But Mufti's continued silence, three days after the poll results threw up a hung Assembly, is attributed to divisions within his party on a tie up with BJP.

Even in NC, there was opposition any tie up with at least one key MLA, Aga Syed Ruhullah, a prominent Shia leader, said "we are not in favour of an alliance with the BJP. I have made my opinion known to the party leadership in this regard." He, however, said he had only apprised Omar about his views and not written any letter as reported by media.

BJP on its part is also said to be reluctant to go with PDP as the first option since it has reservations about Mufti's approach on some fundamental issues such as AFSPA, Article 370 and dealing with separatists.

Given this scenario, there was no clarity on the contours of the new government in the state with observers predicting that it would take several days for matters to crystallise.

Omar gave vent to worries in some quarters about a spell of Governor's rule saying that
such a step would be negation of the "over-whelming faith that the people of the state have reposed in the democratic process".

An NC leader said that there was virtually no possibility of the party tying up with BJP which is keen to have its own Chief Minister that would result in the only Muslim-majority state having its first non-Muslim head of government.

"Options of bridging the divide between the Jammu division which has overwhelmingly voted for BJP and the Kashmir Valley which has opted for PDP, NC and Congress have to be explored. That explains contacts between us and BJP but the NC would not compromise on its basic principles," the leader said.

A  section of PDP leaders, including some newly-elected MLAs from Srinagar district, have opposed an alliance with the BJP saying it will be detrimental to the party interests in the long run.

"We fought the elections on the basis of protecting the special status of Jammu and Kashmir along with providing good governance and development. Here we are today considering an alliance with BJP, a party that is diametrically opposite to our core stand," a PDP leader said on the condition of anonymity.

The PDP leader said the party had just found acceptability in Srinagar district and an alliance with BJP can shut the door on it  for all times to come.

However, PDP's Lok Sabha member from Baramulla Muzaffar Hussain Baig came out in support of an alliance between his party and BJP.

"BJP has 25 members and represents the Jammu region and we represent the Kashmir valley. (PM Narendra) Modi and Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) are the tallest leaders from the two parties and they should talk to each other," he said.

Baig, however, was categorical that Sayeed should lead the proposed alliance for the entire term of six years, a condition that BJP might not be agreeable to and push the national party towards National Conference.

A second rung National Conference leader said there was a possibility of revolt with the party ranks, at least in Srinagar District, if an alliance with BJP came to fruition.

"Ideally, every politician wants to be with the ruling dispensation. But if National Conference decides to ally with the BJP, people like me will have to reconsider our association with the oldest political party of the state," the NC leader, who requested not to be named, said.

He said too premature to talk about an NC-BJP alliance as party's working president Omar Abdullah has denied meeting the leaders of the national party.

"A meeting of NC leadership is likely tomorrow where we shall come to know what course of action our party is pursuing," he added.

The emerging situation on the political scene is indicative of a long drawn process for government formation in the state.

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