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Offer & counteroffer land at 10, Janpath

Omar Abdullah arrives in capital for alliance talks with Congress.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 30, 2008, 04.19 AM IST
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SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: Efforts to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir have been kicked off in earnest with the National Conference leadership, which had earlier in the day named its president Omar Abdullah as its chief ministerial candidate, flying to New Delhi for a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. With 28 seats in hand and two independents willing to join it, the party is capable of getting a simple majority to rule J&K, in partnership with the Congress.

NC president Omar Abdullah flew to the Capital on Monday evening to meet Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi to seek their support for the next government in J&K. The Congress high command, in the meanwhile, has had detailed interactions with Congress heavyweights from J&K, including former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Union minister Saifuddin Soz, who arrived in the Capital during the course of the day.

On landing in the Capital, Mr Omar Abdullah said that his party had got ���very positive��� signals from the Congress. He said, ���Otherwise I would not have come here.��� Clarifying on coalition formula, Mr Omar Abdullah said, ���We will talk about formula, if coalition parleys are successful.��� He refused to clarify on talks of the Congress and NC ruling in rotation.

A high-level meeting of the Congress was being held at Ms Gandhi���s residence in the Capital on Monday night to take a call on the matter. Among those in attendance, besides the Congress president and the two J&K stalwarts, were Mr Ahmed Patel and Union minister Prithviraj Chavan, who���s the party���s in charge of the state. A meeting with Mr Omar Abdullah is scheduled for Tuesday.

While the NC has already declared that it is ready to join hands with the Congress to form the next coalition government in the state, the latter is keeping it on tenterhooks. Party spokesman Manish Tiwari told mediapersons in New Delhi that the Congress was keeping all its options open. ���Negotiations are on. The party has not come to any conclusion on who���s a better ally. We���re keeping in mind all aspects,��� he said, in a clear signal that the Congress would go in for some hard bargaining.

External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the core committee on Kashmir, has been asked by the Congress brass to fly back to the Capital from Kolkata immediately to lead the talks with the NC leadership.

Sources said if the meeting is successful, Mr Chavan is expected to fly to Jammu and Srinagar for interacting with the legislators so that a consensus is hammered out. There are at least four Congress legislators who are considered close to PDP, and they���d have to be placated.

While a decision on embracing NC is now considered a foregone conclusion, only the modalities of the power-sharing agreement has to be worked out. The terms and conditions, a section of the state Congress feels, should be the same as those worked out with PDP last time. These include a CMP, deputy chief ministership and some heavyweight portfolios. There is a also a view within the party that it should only extend outside support to the NC-led government.
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