The coalition circus

Historically, the relationship between NC and Congress has remained a tenuous affair but it has never come in their way to rule J&K jointly. The ongoing controversies triggered by Congressmen Karan Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar only add to the friendly matches, a Kashmir Life analysis

As they landed in Srinagar, the scribes were busy rushing their copies to add a slight unease in otherwise peacefully smooth corridors of power. The faction-ridden Congress’s ‘official circles’ (it has opposition circle as well) did insist that Congress oldies Makhan Lal Fotedar and Dr Karan Singh were actually on personal visits. But the two – who rarely enjoy each other’s company (and tragically, their host Prof Saif ud Din Soz dislikes both of them) could not resist the temptation of creeping to Srinagar’s newspaper front pages for a long time.

The duo started meeting delegations and photographs of their engagements were supplied to the media on daily basis. Finally, they opened up. They spoke and were published. Now they feel consumed. While Fotedar is still sustaining the verbal war with NC, the heir apparent opted to invite Omar for dinner to Karan Mahal, the last property that Kashmir’s last Maharaja’s family is still retaining in Srinagar.

It happened last week when the faction ridden party invited the two “heavyweights” to its Moulana Azad road office (that still has a disputed ownership) where the “have-nots” in the party sought rotation of coalition leadership as it happened last time.

“The decision was taken as no alternative was available with the party to take over reins from Omar Abdullah after completion of his term,” Fotedar told party-men. He upheld what Omar has been consistently insisting that the issue of leading the coalition for the full term is a closed chapter as it has already been decided.

But it did not satisfy the Congress have-nots. Karan Singh is aware of the deep rooted divisions in his party. “I was here for past 10 days and met party leaders and people and listened to their suggestions. I assure you (I will) take up your suggestions with (UPA chairperson) Sonia Ji,” Singh told the restive workers.

Both of them then started dabbling into the last coalition that ruled J&K with PDP in the driver’s seat. Singh informed the party-men that Congress had decided to let Mufti Sayeed continue for the entire six year term. But after the cadres got restive, Dr Singh said, he took up the issue with the high command. “I explained to them (that) why shall people vote for us if Congress is not given opportunity to run the government. My suggestions were accepted,” he said.

Fotedar followed the same line. Congress, he said, was keen to continue Mufti’s dispensation but the decision “was changed at last minute”. The Congress Working Committee had even passed resolution for continuation of his term.

While making these revelations, however, Fotedar made a mistake. He termed Mufti’s three years as “golden era” in J&K’s history. “Kashmir issue would have ceased to exist had he (Mufti) been allowed (to continue),” he said, adding, “The LoC could have been made permanent (border).”

But the two sounded reconciliatory. Admitting there are grievances of “injustice and discrimination” in Congress against NC, Fotedar said: “These can be redressed amicably.” Karan Singh called for a “brotherhood” among the coalition partners.

But that was just the appetizer. Insisting the accession was final, Fotedar attacked almost everybody who had made a comment in recent past. These included Omar for his ‘J&K has acceded and not integrated with India’ statement and Home Minister P Chidambaram for his ‘J&K acceded (to India) in unique conditions and would require a unique solution’.

Accession, he said, is unconditional and final. “Omar Abdullah was not even born when it was signed,” he told reporters. Asked about Chidambaram, he said: “He speaks good English, but has no knowledge about Kashmir.” He sees separatism as the outcome of poverty and unemployment. This broadened the canvas and helped NC to react.

I am not going to lose my sleep over the issue,” reacted chief minister Omar Abdullah, adding, “I have full backing of Congress high command and the central government.” He said he was very specific that there cannot be two chief ministers in a six-year term.

It was followed by the scathing attack from the “spokesman”. Asserting J&K’s accession was conditional, the NC spokesman termed Fotedar a “top conspirator” who played a key role in breaking the (previous) NC-Congress coalition government. “Like a snake in the sleeve, Fotedar has always been busy in New Delhi, hatching conspiracies against our sincere leadership,” the spokesman said.

 “If Congress leaders are snakes, then what is NC doing in the company of snakes?” asked Fotedar in reaction. He said NC is changing colours like a chameleon. “They say something in Srinagar and change it when they reach Delhi,” he said.

Noted columnist M Sayeed Malik wrote that the contradiction between the two over Omar’s tenure exposed their own tenuous position up the ladder. “According to Dr Singh this was an open issue but Fotedar claimed that six-year tenure for Omar was a settled fact,” he wrote. “Obviously, one of them is wrong. Or both were trying their hand at kite flying because, the grapevine has it, neither Dr Singh nor Fotedar today enjoy access to the Congress sanctum sanctorum in New Delhi.”

The controversy is unlikely to change anything. Omar limited Mufti’s role as opposition but Fotedar can still lead part of the Congress that treats itself as opposition within.

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