- Congress reportedly approved grand alliance
- Includes Mehbooba Mufti's party, Omar Abdullah's National Conference
- BJP dismissed reported move as desperate attempt by parties
Rivals Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah may team up to form a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Congress, sources said today, adding that talks between the three parties are "at an advanced stage". The leaders of the three parties may meet Governor Satya Pal Malik soon to stake claim, say sources.
Altaf Bukhari, a senior leader of Mufti's People's Democratic Party (PDP), is emerging as the chief ministerial face of the possible grand coalition. Mr Bukhari met Omar Abdullah and later told reporters: "My leadership has confirmed to us that the three parties have agreed to make a coalition to defend the special identity of the state politically and legally. Very soon, you will get good news."
Mr Abdullah's National Conference may provide outside support to the coalition, which is meant to stymie what sources allege are the BJP's attempts to engineer defections and take power in the state where six-month central rule ends next month. If it crystallizes, such a coalition could be the model for the much-discussed BJP vs Rest contest in the 2019 national election.
The Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary has been summoned to Delhi and is likely to meet officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office or the PMO.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad confirmed the talks but said they were "not at the stage of government formation yet". He said: "We are discussing why not come together and form a government. But talks are still on."
The PDP has 28 legislators in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir assembly, Congress has 12 and the National Conference has 15, which places them well ahead of the majority mark of 44.
The BJP calls it a desperate attempt by the parties to keep their flock together. "Their attempts to come together will not succeed," said a BJP leader.
The BJP, which dumped the PDP and forced Mehbooba Mufti to quit as chief minister in June, supports a "third front" led by Sajjad Gani Lone of the People's Conference.
The BJP has 26 members and Sajjad Lone's party has just two lawmakers, but reports suggest attempts to split the PDP and poach Congress and National Conference lawmakers to raise enough numbers for a majority. There is a theory that if these attempts fail, the centre will aim at state elections in March.
Yesterday, PDP parliamentarian Muzaffar Baig threatened to quit his party and hinted at backing Sajjad Lone. He did not rule out forming a government, saying there were people within his party "who want an elected government".
On the PDP and National Conference possibly joining hands, Mr Baig said: "It will be an alliance of one religion. Jammu would not like it, Ladakh will not remain part of the state. This will lead to trifurcation of the state."