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Azad says Mufti deceived him to grab J&K CM’s post in 2002

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s book “Azaad: An autobiography”.

Srinagar: Ghulam Nabi Azad’s book “Azaad: An autobiography”, which was released by the veteran Congress leader and former Sadr-e-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Karan Singh, in New Delhi on Wednesday, has stirred a hornet’s nest in several parties and among politicians.

While Azad’s revelations about Rahul Gandhi and his confidants have irked a number of the Congress party leaders, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has come out with a strong reaction.

Azad’s autobiography has, inter alia, blamed the PDP founder late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for deceiving the senior Congress leader and his long-time party colleague in grabbing the Chief Minister’s chair in Jammu and Kashmir in the year 2002.

While heading the party and extensively campaigning in the erstwhile State, Azad managed victory of 20 of the Congress candidates in the Assembly elections of October 2002. He staked his claim for forming the government with the help of ‘like-minded members and parties’ as the traditional ruling party, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, had for the first time in its history fallen from 58 to 28 seats.

Of the 87 seats, 28 went to NC, 20 to Congress, 16 to PDP, 2 to CPM, 4 to National Panthers Party and one each to BJP and BSP. 15 seats were bagged by independent candidates, including one each from two unrecognised parties. Immediately after the results were out, NC declared that it would neither stake a claim nor support any other party as it had lost the peoples’ mandate to rule.

Arithmetically it was possible for Azad to get 42 members on his side without seeking support from NC, PDP and BJP. Since he would be still short of two MLAs to form the government, seeking Mufti’s support or engineering a split in his party were the only options left with him.

“With the letter of support of 42 MLAs in my hand, I telephoned the governor (Girish Chandra Saxena), and he invited me the following day to discuss the date of oath-taking. I informed (AICC President) Sonia ji about the developments over telephone. She was happy to hear that I was now taking charge of government formation,” Azad claims in his autobiography.

“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”, Azad reveals. “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, which I had maintained even after his split with the Congress. Though I did not need his backing to form the government, I believed that with him on board, the government would be even more stable and could perform better. Besides, he had been a Congressman, and his MLAs could be co-opted in the government”.

According to Azad, Mufti asked for 3-4 days of time to consider the former’s proposal of the induction of 5-6 PDP MLAs into the Cabinet.

“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, saying that I could go to the Raj Bhavan after having breakfast with him; I readily agreed. 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,” says Azad.

“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. But I trusted him implicitly and did not spot his deviousness. How was I to know that he would throw our personal relations to the wind and misuse my generosity! I met the governor and briefed him about my talks with Mufti that morning, also informing him that I would get back to him after three–four days,” Azad records for history.

“I returned to Delhi and narrated the whole story to Sonia ji. 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 to firm up his party’s inclusion in the government. 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,” Azad explains in his book.

“Thereafter, Sonia ji 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 for agreeing to his party’s participation in the government. 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!’ Sonia ji and I were aghast and said that no such indication or assurance had been given from our side at any point of time. Mufti nearly 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,” Azad says.

“When matters seemed to be going out of hand, I intervened and requested Sonia ji that an arrangement could be worked out by which I would be CM for the first three years and Mufti could take over for the next three years (then the J&K government’s term was of six years). This way, everyone would be happy. However, Mufti, having got a toehold, now wanted full entry through the door. He insisted on being the CM for the first three years. Sonia ji was in no mood to relent. Again, I requested her that in the larger interest of the state, we should agree to his demand. That is how Mufti, whose party had come third in the elections, with just 16MLAs, became the CM, while I, despite having the support of 42 MLAs, had to return to national politics,” he says.

While Mufti assumed power and functioned as Chief Minister for the first three years, Azad got his turn in November 2005 but resigned when PDP withdrew support from him in July 2008 for allotment of a piece of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

In a sharp reaction, PDP has dismissed Azad’s revelations about Mufti’s purported role in the coalition formation in 2002 as “blatant Lies” and a “cock and bull story”.

“Congress is saying that Azad Sahab quit the party only after he failed to get a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Would such a politician give the entire government in charity to Mufti Sahab or anyone else?” senior PDP leader and former bureaucrat-turned-Minister Naeem Akhtar, told India Narrative. Akhtar has been an unparalleled confidant to Mufti as well his daughter Mehbooba, both former Chief Ministers.

“Sonia Gandhi, in fact, sent Dr Manmohan Singh to negotiate the agenda for alliance. The process went on for two months. Unlike Azad Sahab, Sonia ji had a realisation of the people having voted for a change in J&K. If Azad had numbers, as he claims in the book, why didn’t he stake the claim for government formation?” Akhtar alleged that Azad had distorted the Kashmir historical facts “to appease (Prime Minister) Modi”.

“Azad is dishing out an outright lie. PDP’s coalition with the Congress came in the backdrop where there was an attempt to achieve a resolution for the Kashmir issue. Both India and Pakistan were on the verge of a war after the Parliament attack. Troops had been mobilised on either side. Mufti Sahab pitched for Kashmir to become a bridge between the two countries; a bridge of understanding and friendship”, Akhtar added, suggesting that the decision of making Mufti CM had been taken at the highest level in Congress.