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  Books   15 Apr 2023  Book Excerpt | How Mufti hijacked mandate, outflanked Congress to be CM in 2002

Book Excerpt | How Mufti hijacked mandate, outflanked Congress to be CM in 2002

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Apr 16, 2023, 12:55 am IST
Updated : Apr 16, 2023, 12:55 am IST

Excerpt from 'Azaad: An Autobiobiography' by Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Cover photo of 'Azaad: An Autobiobiography' by Ghulam Nabi Azad. (Photo by arrangement)
 Cover photo of 'Azaad: An Autobiobiography' by Ghulam Nabi Azad. (Photo by arrangement)

Success breeds enemies. This is especially true of politics. Having turned around the party’s fortunes in five states back-to-back, I had won many admirers. However, there was also a clique within the party at the national level that did not appreciate the rise in my stature and my continued victory in state after state of which I was in charge as general secretary. Their efforts bore fruit. One fine day in March 2002, when I was just done with UP and Uttarakhand elections, Soniaji informed me that I had been appointed as the PCC chief of J&K. Assembly elections were due there in six months.

The Congress Party was in a shambles there. Over 90 per cent of the state’s Congress leaders and workers had gone away with Mufti who had succeeded in splitting the party on three occasions: the first was the vertical split orchestrated by him after his appointment as the PCC president in the aftermath of the Indira-Sheikh accord of 1975; the second was in 1987 when he joined V.P. Singh’s Jan Morcha for a brief while, following which he rejoined the Congress in 1996, and the third was in 1999 when he floated a new party, the PDP.

Elections were held in the month of September and October in four phases. The results surprised everyone, including Soniaji. We got the second-highest number of seats — 20. The ruling NC won 28 seats and Mufti’s PDP got 16 seats. My political opponents had dispatched me to exile and had thought that I would become a Bahadur Shah Zafar; instead, by the grace of God and with the support of the voters, I emerged victorious! Meanwhile, Farooq Abdullah declared publicly that he would not stake claim to form the government since he did not have the majority. I met the governor and requested him to invite the Congress Party to form the government. I told him that I had the support of 15 Independent MLAs, four MLAs of the Panthers Party, two MLAs of CPI (M) and one MLA of the BSP, besides 20 Congress MLAs.

To a simple majority, I needed 44. However, there was a provision in the J&K Constitution by which the government could nominate two female members with voting rights to the House. I could later use it to secure a simple majority.

With the letter of support of 42 MLAs in my hand, I telephoned the governor, and he invited me the following day to discuss the date of oath-taking. I informed Soniaji about the developments over telephone. She was happy to hear that I was now taking charge of government formation. A few hours before the meeting with the governor, around 8.00 a.m., I was in the balcony of my room of Hotel Broadway in Srinagar, having tea with Ashok Bhan, a friend, Congressman and lawyer of the Supreme Court, when a thought occurred to me. Perhaps it was driven by emotion. I told Bhan that I should ask Mufti’s party to join the government. I had a long family association with him.

 I telephoned Mufti and informed him that I would be meeting the governor at 11.00 a.m. I suggested that his party could be part of the government and asked him to give me names of five-six MLAs of his party who could be accommodated as ministers. He said that it was a good idea and immediately invited me for breakfast.

I had breakfast with him at his residence and repeated my offer. He heard me out and said that he wanted three-four days to think it over. He suggested that I better defer my meeting with the governor until then. I should have seen through his game plan then and gone ahead with the oath-taking; after all, his party could have joined the government later.

I returned to Delhi and narrated the whole story to Soniaji. It was decided that Dr Manmohan Singh, then the LoP in the Rajya Sabha, and I would fly to Srinagar and meet the PDP leader. The following day, Dr Singh and I went to Srinagar and had lunch with Mufti, during which he confirmed his party’s participation in the government. Thereafter, Soniaji invited Mufti to Delhi for the final announcement of the alliance. I, too, was present at the meeting. Mufti thanked the Congress president and me. But when he was asked for names from his party who could be part of my government, he suddenly got up in an agitated state and exclaimed, “I thought that I had been invited to be the chief minister!” Soniaji and I were aghast and said that no such indication or assurance had been given from our side at any point of time. Mufti shouted back that he had been called to Delhi to be insulted. “Why was I called? I could have been informed over the telephone.” It was clear that he wanted to hijack the government.

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