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Farooq wants to strengthen party, Omar to be CM

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 29, 2008 18:49 IST
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National Conference president Omar Abdullah is all set to become the next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir with his father Farooq Abdullah and the party clearing his name to head a coalition with the Congress after a night of confusion.

38-year-old Omar, whose father and party patron Farooq was projected as the chief ministerial candidate during campaigning, will travel to New Delhi for talks with Congress president Sonia Gandhi for working out a post-poll arrangement that will enable the two to form a government.

"I have been authorised by the party to hold talks with Congress leaders, finalise all issues pertaining to the alliance and cement an accord," Omar said.

72-year-old Farooq, who had injected an element of uncertainty on Sunday night by saying he would be the chief minister, retracted after discussions with his son.

"I think the time has come when I will recommend to my own party that we should have a younger man leading them because a lot has to be done," he said with his son by his side.

He said Omar had done well leading the party but unfortunately it could not get a majority. "It will be a coalition and Omar is the best man to handle such a situation," the former chief minister said.

Emerging from his father's residence, Omar, who could break the 26-year-old record of his father, who became the youngest chief minister at 45, earlier said: "A decision has been taken that my name will be put forward at the legislature party meeting of the National Conference for the post of chief minister."

Omar, however, said this decision was only that of the NC which would have to be ratified by the new alliance partner as well.

The National Conference, which has 28 seats and the Congress with 17 will have 45 in a House of 87, one more than the required half-way mark as the elections returned a fractured verdict and a hung assembly. Omar will be the ninth chief minister of the state.

Senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz are believed to have backed Omar's nomination as the chief ministerial candidate.  The two leaders are expected to be part of the talks between the two parties.

The Congress and the NC had formed a coalition government after 1987 elections after an accord between Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah.

Earlier, Omar had told reporters that his father Farooq Abdullah will be holding talks with the Congress for formation of an alliance but the plans have been changed and Omar would himself go to Delhi.

"Formally, no talks have been held on formation of an alliance," he said adding there should be no difficulty in talking to Congress and seeking their support. Informal contacts have already been established, he added.

Farooq said he felt it was time he bailed out the party which had some ground in some areas where they have been completely wiped out.

"That shows that the party needs regrouping, realignment and rethinking.  That is what I have been thinking in the night and I should really devote more time to the party and the government was to be given to a young man.

"I would recommend to the party that Omar should considered for the chief minister's post," he said.

Asked when the decision was taken to project him as the candidate, Omar said "this morning.  Yesterday we were all soaking in the results.  Clearly Dr Farooq had 12 hours to reflect on the results and based on this he has taken the decision."

To a question whether a view that he was more acceptable to the Congress as Chief Minister than his father prevailed in taking the decision, Omar said, "Not at all. We have had no communication with the Congress even informally.

"Frankly speaking even if there is a suggestion that we should change the chief minister I would have rejected and said we would like to sit in the opposition.  I will not accept to do something under another party's pressure."

Omar said he would like Farooq to return to Parliament and would also like him to take over the responsibility of managing the party affairs.  "I can't do both," he said of heading the party and the government.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said he was happy that the confusion in the National Conference was over.

On the Congress strategy, he said they would support any party that believed in integrity and unity of the country.

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