Strained Coalition

Ahmad Riyaz

Are there any chances of the J-K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah being replaced with a Congress CM in December?  The answer is no if we go by the National-Congress coalition agreement in December 2008 whereby Omar was made CM for the full term of six years. Congress spokesman AbhishekSinghvi recently reiterated his commitment to the agreement by making it clear that Omar will complete his term.  But as the coalition’s half term draws to a close by the end of this year, clamour for a change of guard from the state’s Congress leadership is building to a crescendo.

In fact, the demand for a Congress CM is only growing by the day. This is a storm that bubbles just beneath the ongoing din over the partial revocation of AFSPA. Some Congress leaders accuse Omar of pursuing the AFSPA revocation in his bid to divert the attention away from the issue. It is said that Omar has raised the issue at a time when half of his term is about to expire and he senses the bid to replace him. The attempt to revoke the law is therefore seen as perfectly timed to up the ante and raise stakes for the centre in case there is a decision to replace him.

What has kept the hopes alive for the Congress here is Rahul Gandhi’s recent visit to the state. Gandhi not only maintained distance from Omar but also didn’t reject the demand for a rotational chief minister. He told local Congress leaders that the issue will be decided by Congress high command.
In fact, the State Congress president Saif-u-Din Soz who is being touted by the Congressmen here as the “choice No 1” for the CM is also not ready to quash the speculations. In a recent interview he said that the Congress leaders have expressed grievances which have been conveyed to the high command. He said he was ready to give his best in any position, the party chooses to offer him.

On the other hand, the rumblings within the coalition are deepening over the CM’s alleged unwillingness to hold consultations with Congress leaders in the state. He is accused of hardly consulting the Coalition Executive Council chaired by Soz. What makes the situation more complicated is that the Congress high command seems now little inclined to intervene in Omar’s favour. On AFSPA also, despite Chidambaram’s backing for its revocation, the party chose to back Soz’s call for wider consultation on the issue rather than direct him to support Omar.

This makes the coalition government quite unstable. There are two things that could keep the government on tenterhooks in the days to come. One, feeling outmaneuvered on AFSPA, there is greater need for Omar to reassert himself. What shape this re-assertion takes is still unclear. And on the other hand, Congress will play the card of a rotational chief minister to keep him under check. Here’s to a rambunctious journey ahead!

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