Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s friendship with Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has come under severe test with the state unit of the Congress joining chorus to sever ties with coalition partner National Conference.
Even as the Congress is preparing grounds to justify its move — reviewing Omar government’s performance or the lack of it in implementing UPA government’s flagship schemes like the Food Security Act — some senior party leaders have already reached out to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), exploring the option of a pre-poll alliance.
Amid all these moves, Rahul, who has shielded Omar from his party snipers all this while, has remained silent, giving jitters to those clamouring for an end to Congress-NC alliance.
From the beginning, this coalition has been wobbly. Thanks to his friendship with Rahul, Omar had managed to get the CM post for all of six years, much to the chagrin of CM aspirants in the Congress camp. Omar’s dismal performance as the CM in subsequent months and years drew sharp criticism from coalition partner Congress but every time any state Congress leader mounted an offensive, Omar would rush to Delhi or send a text message to Rahul and the crisis would immediately blow over, according to Congress leaders.
“It will be suicidal to go into elections with the National Conference. Ask Ambikaji (AICC general secretary in charge of the state Ambika Soni) who had met all leaders for two days recently. Everybody wanted to sever ties with the NC, which has become very unpopular. I don’t know why the high command is not acting. It’s true that Omar has benefited from his friendship with Rahulji but the (Nehru-Gandhi) family has made bigger sacrifices for the party,” a senior Congress functionary from the state told The Indian Express.
Former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and former Union minister Jairam Ramesh were learnt to have held separate meetings with PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed recently. Congress sources clarified that neither of them had been authorised by the high command to talk to the PDP as Sonia Gandhi was yet to make up her mind on changing the coalition partner in the state. According to Congress sources, the PDP was unenthusiastic about any pre-poll alliance as extrapolation of the recent Lok Sabha election results gave the party a clear lead in the Assembly elections. The PDP leadership would prefer a post-poll alliance, if needed, said sources.
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Jairam Ramesh confirmed his meeting with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed but denied he had any talks on pre-poll coalition. “I had no such discussion. I was in Srinagar some time back to visit JK entrepreneurship development institute which I helped set up,” he said, adding that a friend of his had said that Sayeed often complained that “I don’t look him up”.
“So both of us met him and most of the time was spent discussing what UPA had done for economic development in J&K,” he said. Azad was not available for comment but his close aides said his meeting with Sayeed was “just a courtesy call” and “no politics was discussed”.
While Rahul Gandhi’s stance on the party’s alliance in the state would be crucial, sources said even for the Congress, it would “not be very easy” to change the alliance partner after being part of the government for five-and-a-half years. “The best course seems to be to go alone in the elections. We are trying to persuade the high command for this, but Rahulji has to take the final call. He has told us so many times that the party’s interest is supreme,” said a Congress functionary.