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Saturday, January 9, 2016

With Mehbooba in mourning, J&K becomes a headless State

Governor asks for PDP's, BJP's stand on government formation 

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz 
JAMMU, Jan 8: With no claim of the government formation coming forward from the PDP-BJP alliance, Jammu and Kashmir on Friday became a headless State as Governor Narendra Nath Vohra decided against imposition of the Governor's rule before seeking the coalition partners' stand with regard to constitution of the new dispensation following Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death.

For the whole day, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti remained confined to her bedroom at her Fairview residence on Gupkar Road which was thronged by hundreds of visitors offering condolences over Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death. PDP spokesman Dr Mehboob Beg said that Ms Mufti met with "only a couple of the guests" while as most of the guests were attended by her family members including maternal uncle Sartaj Madni.

In the evening, BJP leaders Ram Madhav and Avinash Rai Khanna called on Ms Mufti. She had a 30-minute long meeting with Madhav and, according to sources, made it clear to him that she would not take any political meetings or decisions before conclusion of her father's fourth day ceremony on Sunday. BJP's chief whip in Rajya Sabha and national vice president incharge Jammu and Kashmir Khanna and the outgoing Dy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh were not allowed in the meeting.

Later, at 8.00 p.m. both Madhav and Khanna returned to New Delhi by the same chartered plane that earlier ferried them to Srinagar.

Madhav and Khanna also had a meeting with their party leaders and legislators upon their arrival at Circuit House. One of the senior BJP leaders present in the meeting revealed to STATE TIMES that the BJP legislators handed to Khanna a resolution that called for rotational term of 3 years for PDP's and BJP's Chief Ministers. Alternatively, it demanded 2 more Cabinet berths for BJP.

Madhav received the resolution and said that he would press it hard with PDP. However, he told the BJP gathering that he was not hopeful of its acceptance by the PDP.

The BJP MLAs and MLCs had several rounds of discussions at Circuit House over formation of the new government in an alliance with PDP under Ms Mufti. Sources said that the final call of supporting or not supporting a leader would have to be taken by the BJP high command in New Delhi. "We will do what we will be asked to do", a senior BJP legislator said.

BJP's State President and MLA Sat Paul Sharma told STATE TIMES that his party would neither respond to Governor's letter nor deliberate upon the government formation untill the mourning was over at Mufti's residence. However Ram Madhav reportedly told some journalists that BJP would respond to Governor’s communication by Saturday afternoon. 

On Thursday evening, BJP legislators have already decided to support Ms Mufti’s claim for formation of the new government as and when it is submitted to Raj Bhawan.

Sources told STATE TIMES that earlier in the forenoon, Chief Secretary BR Sharma, ex-CM's Principal Secretary B.B. Vyas and Home Secretary R.K. Goyal called on Ms Mufti and insisted that she take the oath as Chief Minister within Friday. Senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar arranged their meeting with Ms Mufti who reportedly maintained that she was not prepared to take over as Chief Minister before conclusion of the mourning at her home.

An attempt by Mr Akhtar to persuade her to take the oath failed to yield any results. Later, in the evening, Home Secretary Goyal returned to Jammu and narrated all the day's developments to Governor Vohra whose aircraft was ready for the whole day to carry him to Srinagar for Mehbooba's swearing in ceremony. 

Sources revealed to STATE TIMES that Governor submitted a report on the political developments to the Government of India with the proposal of imposition of Governor’s rule for a brief period. However the Centre advised him to first seek PDP's and BJP's stand with regard to formation of the new government. Accordingly, Raj Bhawan faxed separate letters to BJP State President Sat Paul Sharma and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti. Neither of them responded to the Raj Bhawan communication till midnight on Friday.

Sources close to PDP high command said that the party could meet on Monday to take a call. "If everything goes on smoothly, swearing-in ceremony could take place on January 12th----Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s birth anniversary", said an insider. It is widely speculated that Ms Mufti would choose her fresh team as members of her Council of Ministers if she decided to be her father's successor as Chief Minister.

Those who drove all the way to Bijbehara to offer Fatiha at Mufti's tomb and later stayed together at Mehbooba's Srinagar residence included former Chief Minister Gh Nabi Azad, CPM State Secretary Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami and independent MLA Hakeem Mohammad Yasin.


[ Published in today's STATE TIMES ]

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mehbooba being sworn-in as CM at SKICC today 

On Rajnath's advise, BJP decides to support Mehbooba's nomination; Ram Madhav to call on her in Srinagar

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz 

JAMMU, Jan 7: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti’s swearing-in as Chief Minister did not materialise on Thursday following her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s funeral in hometown Bijbehara as the politician in a shock felt indisposed at her Srinagar residence. Now Governor Narendra Nath Vohra would give her oath of office and secrecy at SKICC in Srinagar on Friday, STATE TIMES learned from highly placed political and bureaucratic sources.

Immediately after some funeral rites were performed at Mufti's Fairview residence on Gupkar Road and the body was despatched for Bijbehara in a flower bedecked carriage following Namaaz-e-Janazah at Sher-e-Kashmir International Cricket Stadium Sonwar, Ms Mufti confined herself to her bedroom. She could not respond to scores of phone calls including two from very important quarters in New Delhi: One from President of India Pranab Mukherjee and another from BJP chief Amit Shah. 

"She is unwell and sleeping", both were told.

Sources in the PDP called it "strange and surprising" that the media and politicians were making her Chief Minister at a time when she was in "deep shock" and "indisposed". She didn't even visit her village after her father was laid to rest.

"I don't know how journalists are reporting that PDP handed over a letter of support in her favour to Governor when no such development has taken place", PDP General Secretary Nizamuddin Bhat told STATE TIMES. He insisted that as long as Ms Mufti was not well, nothing of it would be even discussed. "Thereafter a proper legislature party meeting will take place and it will be resolved, hopefully unanimously, that she should be sworn in as Chief Minister. We are likely to receive similar resolution from our coalition partner BJP by tomorrow. Thereafter, with Mehboobaji's consent, we will submit both letters to Governor", Mr Bhat said.

On the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s advise, BJP legislators held a meeting at Hari Niwas guesthouse in the afternoon on Thursday and decided unanimously to support Ms Mufti’s nomination as Chief Minister. Later, according to informed sources, PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Governor Narendra Nath Vohra met briefly at Srinagar airport. They were, sources said, unanimous that Governor's rule would have to be imposed in case the new Chief Minister could not be sworn in by 4.00 pm Friday.

While maintaining that much would depend on Ms Mufti’s health and inclination, sources said that BJP national general secret Ram Madhav would fly to Srinagar on Friday morning and call on Ms Mufti to extend his personal and his party's condolences on her father's demise. The two leaders are expected to discuss the oath-taking as well as constitution of the new Council of Ministers. It is widely speculated that Ms Mufti would choose her own team and reshuffle portfolios, though not more than three Ministers from each party could be dropped and replaced by new faces.

"If all went well, Ms Mufti could be sworn in as CM tomorrow and thereafter the members of her Council of Ministers could take oath in a few days in Jammu", said a highly placed political source. Commencement of the Legislature's Budget session on January 18th makes it necessary to form the new government in the next 10 days.

Meanwhile after returning to the winter capital from Srinagar this evening, Government Vohra is understood to have discussed formation of the new government and Friday's oath-taking ceremony with Chief Secretary BR Sharma and Principal Secretary to the former Chief Minister Bharat Bhushan Vyas.


[ Published in today's STATE TIMES ]

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mehbooba likely to take over as CM before Budget session

Baig called to Delhi; Ministers, BJP leaders, CS, DGP too in union capital 

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Jan 5: With Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s condition deteriorating in an ICU at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the process of installing his daughter Mehbooba Mufti as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is now underway in New Delhi.

Highly placed BJP sources in New Delhi confirmed to STATE TIMES that a process to clear the decks for Ms Mufti's installation as Chief Minister of the politically sensitive State had begun. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP's National General Secretary Ram Madhav and Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitendra Singh, sources revealed, were in the loop.

Even as no timeline of the transfer of power to Ms Mufti, who would be the State’s first woman Chief Minister, had been fixed until Tuesday evening, sources said there was a "stark likelihood" of her taking over before commencement of the Budget session of the State legislature on January 18th. Currently, PDP's President and Lok Sabha member from south Kashmir, Ms Mufti would have the option of becoming a member of either House of J&K legislature in six months of her taking oath as Chief Minister.

Now 56-year-old, and a mother of two daughters, Ms Mufti made her debut in politics in 1996 when she contested and won her first Assembly election as Congress candidate from her home segment of Bijbehara where her father Mufti Mohammad had repeatedly lost all of his elections to National Conference. In 1983, Mufti was Congress party's candidate from the twin segments of Bijbehara and Homeshalibugh. NC's candidates defeated him on both. Later, he won Assembly election from RS Pora, Jammu.

Mehbooba played a key role in her father's victory as Congress candidate in Lok Sabha elections of 1998 when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed defeated NC's Mohammad Yousuf Taing from south Kashmir. However, a year later Mufti Sayeed lost to NC's Ali Mohammad Naik. Mufti, alongwith Mehbooba and some key associates floated his own regional party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999. In 2002 Assembly elections, PDP bagged 16 seats and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became for the first time Chief Minister with the support of Congress and some independent MLAs.

In 2004 Ms Mufti contested and won her first Lok Sabha election, from south Kashmir. In 2008, she contested and was returned as MLA from Wachi segment of Shopian in south Kashmir when PDP bagged 21 seats but lost power to NC-Congress coalition. In 2014, Ms Mufti was yet again returned as Lok Sabha member from south Kashmir. Later in November-December Assembly elections, PDP got 28 seats and in March 2015 it formed its second government in Jammu and Kashmir---this time in an alliance with BJP and the separatist-turned-mainstream politician Sajjad Lone. 80-year-old Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who had previously also functioned as Union Minister of Tourism and Union Home Minister, was appointed as Chief Minister for full term of 6 years.

On December 22, CM developed some health complications during a daylong tour of Srinagar city. He was shifted to Nehru Guest House for a night but next day flown to New Delhi and admitted in AIIMS. A few days back, his condition improved to the extent that he called some people, including his Principal Secretary BB Vyas on telephone twice to discuss some urgent matters of the government. However on Saturday, his condition began deteriorating again.

"His recovery would be a miracle but even if, God willing, he recovers, he would not be in a position to deliver as head of the government. Yes, we have deliberated on it and decided to support Ms Mufti as the next Chief Minister", a senior BJP leader and Minister said.

PDP leaders invariably maintained that neither Ms Mufti nor any other leader had thought about it. "We are very much hopeful that Mufti Sahab will recover soon. Whatever decision will be taken by him only", said a senior PDP leader, insisting to be anonymous. However, insiders in the top PDP rungs revealed to STATE TIMES that Ms Mufti on Tuesday called her senior colleague and Lok Sabha member from north Kashmir Muzaffar Hussain Baig to New Delhi for "some urgent deliberations". It is likely that Mr Baig, who arrived in New Delhi from Jammu in the evening, may initiate the process and nominate Ms Mufti as the next party leader and Chief Minister.

A number of senior PDP and BJP leaders, including Education Minister Naeem Akhtar, arrived in the Union capital and enquired about the health of Chief Minister. Chief Secretary Braj Raj Sharma and Director General of Police K Rajendra Kumar also landed in New Delhi, though both attended scheduled official meetings with the Central officials.