Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand did not attend all-party meet

On a day when Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah met Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss the functioning of his administration and the unrest in the Valley, the State unit of the Congress — the junior partner in the coalition government — continues to be a divided house.

So much so that Deputy Chief Minister and Congress leader Tara Chand did not show up at the all-party meeting called by Mr. Abdullah on July 12 to plan a common strategy to contain the worst ever crisis in the life of the 18-month-old coalition government. Mr. Tara Chand's explanation? He was not invited. Given that this gathering was considered important enough for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to have called up the opposition People's Democratic Party leader, Mehbooba Mufti, to request her to attend the meeting, Mr. Tara Chand's absence was all the more noticed. Especially as the Congress' central leadership has extended its full support to Mr. Abdullah's government. Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and Congress general secretary in charge of Jammu and Kashmir Prithviraj Chavan said, “We are the supporting party and we are fully backing Omar Abdullah.”

‘Not acting on his own'

Meanwhile, senior Congress sources told The Hindu that an explanation was sought from the Deputy Chief Minister, who was in Delhi earlier this week, but added that they knew Mr. Tara Chand was “not acting on his own” — the reference is to the former Chief Minister and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is at loggerheads with Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saifuddin Soz.

Interestingly, Mr. Tara Chand failed to make it to a meeting with Ms. Gandhi, when his colleagues from the State unit were meeting her as part of the process of organisational elections. Central Congress sources say that he told them that he got “late”; when The Hindu spoke to him, he said he was in Delhi, but on some other work — also, since the discussion was about organisational issues, there was no need for him to attend the meeting. He added that he last met Ms. Gandhi when she visited Jammu a few months ago.

Indeed, a day after the all-party meeting, a section of the State unit, defying the Congress' leadership's directive to unitedly back the Omar Abdullah government, circulated a press statement saying that not a single brainstorming session had been conducted in the party to chalk out the Congress' response ahead of the all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister. The signatories to the statement are Mr. Azad's camp followers, sources say. The statement described Mr. Soz as “autocratic” and “undemocratic,” while stressing that Congress Legislature Party leader Ch. Mohammad Aslam and Mr. Tara Chand had not been extended invitations for the all-party meeting. Mr. Soz's supporters have expressed surprise at this, saying Mr. Tara Chand did not need an invitation as, surely, he was a host.