After its emphatic win in Delhi, Rajasthan and Mizoram, the Congress has marked its presence well in the crucial Jammu and Kashmir election and emerged as the kingmaker of the next government. Although its seats have gone down to 17 from 20 in the 2002 elections, Sonia Gandhi now holds the key to choose its ally for the next government in the state.
Congress sources expect the party to form an alliance with the National Conference (NC) and be a part of the new government in the strategically important state.
It may also try for a power-sharing formula for the chief minister’s post like it did with the People’s Democratic Party after the 2002 elections. In other words, the chief minister’s chair will be shared by the two parties.
The party leadership is happy as it feels the results will boost the morale of the party further before the next Lok Sabha elections due in April 2009.
The top leadership today convened a meeting at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence to shape its post-poll strategy and choose the next ally. Although both the PDP — the ally of the Congress in the last government — and the NC have shown interest in forming an alliance with the Congress, Sonia Gandhi is likely to join hands with Omar Abdullah’s party, which ruled the state for almost two decades. The Congress alliance with the PDP crashed following the Amarnath land row.
In fact, the Congress had sent feelers to the NC leadership a few months before the elections that it was ready even for a pre-poll alliance. Although the NC refused to enter any such agreement, it assured the Congress that it would consider a post-poll alliance to keep the BJP as well the PDP out of power.
The Congress too traditionally considers the NC as the most nationalist party among the regional players of the state.
Sources, however, suggest that Gandhi might object to Farooq Abdullah again becoming the chief minister of the state. As the Congress perceives the votes reflect a positive change in the mindset of people, it would prefer to see Omar Abdullah, son of Farooq and the president of the party, as the next chief minister.
Looking beyond the electoral results, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi hailed the elections as an approval of democracy and national integration.
“It does not matter who wins, what matters is the people of the Valley, people of Jammu and people of Jammu and Kashmir have expressed their faith in the democratic system. It is a lesson to be learnt by our neighbours,” Gandhi said on the sidelines of a party programme.
Singh said, “The large turnout is a vote for democracy. It is a vote for national integration. Therefore, we are all happy.”