Jan 2, 2009

India - J&K;Omar to take oath before January 6

Anita Joshua

Along with Ministers from the Congress

National Conference to extend coalition with Congress

Omar asks Congress to name three Ministers for oath

NEW DELHI: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister-designate Omar Abdullah will take office along with a few Ministers from the National Conference and the Congress before January 6 as per an understanding reached between the two parties here on Thursday evening.

Announcing this after a meeting with the Congress at External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office, Mr. Abdullah – flanked by Pradesh Congress Committee president Saifuddin Soz and party in-charge of J&K Prithviraj Chavan – said he would take the oath with two National Conference members.

And, he has asked the Congress to suggest three names to take the oath on the same day as Ministers.

Also, Mr. Abdullah announced that the National Conference would extend its coalition arrangement with the Congress in the State to the Centre and enter the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The National Conference will formally write to the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to inform them about his party’s decision.

About government formation, Mr. Abdullah said though he wanted to take charge after Muharram, the Constitutional requirement to revoke President’s Rule before a certain date necessitated an earlier date for government formation.

Also, the Governor has indicated that the State should be represented at the Chief Ministers’ meeting called by the Centre on January 6 to discuss internal security in the country.

Though the issue of Deputy Chief Minister is yet to be resolved – the Congress would like to have the post and give it to someone from Jammu – Mr. Abdullah said he was fully satisfied with the way the fledgling coalition was shaping up.

Mr. Abdullah flew into the Capital this evening for the meeting and is slated to return to Srinagar on Friday morning.

Four senior National Conference leaders accompanied him. Besides Mr. Mukherjee, Mr. Soz and Mr. Chavan, the Congress team included Defence Minister A. K. Antony, the former Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

While the dominant view within the Congress is not in favour of a rotational arrangement like it had with the People’s Democratic Party for the last six years, senior party leaders insisted that the option was still open.

The Jammu and Kashmir Constitution allows the State to have 24 Ministers.

The two parties have to agree on portfolio allocation and the number of Ministers that each side will have.

Another key issue pertains to the presiding officers of the bicameral legislature.

Usually, if the leading partner in the coalition becomes the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the post of Chairman of the Legislative Council goes to the other.

Both sides have decided to work as per a common minimum programme and have decided to leave the drafting of for a later date.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chavan welcomed the National Conference offer to join the UPA.

However, party leaders conceded that this could see the exit of the PDP from the UPA as it would be difficult for the two J&K-based parties to be on the same boat.

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