BJP wants to rule Kashmir -- with Hindu chief minister

Srinagar/Jammu: The BJP declared Thursday that it was determined to govern Jammu and Kashmir amid speculation that the National Conference would ally with it if the BJP didn't insist on a Hindu chief minister for the country's only Muslim-majority state.

BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Ram Madhav made known the party's intentions separately in Jammu and Srinagar, with the latter saying he was in the state to explore various options on government formation after elections led to a hung 87-member assembly.

The BJP and the National Conference, the second and third largest groups in the house with 25 and 15 members, denied they were in secret talks. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which won 28 seats, was reportedly looking at both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress as possible allies.

Jammu and Kashmir must have a BJP-led government, party general secretary Ram Madhav said, adding he was in Srinagar to explore the various options. Ram Madhav told reporters: "The BJP has the mandate to lead the government in Jammu and Kashmir. I am here to explore the options."

He added that he was meeting representatives from different parties but did not provide details. "We are open to discussions, and meetings can be had with the prime minister also in this regard," he added, two days after the BJP emerged as the second largest group in the Kashmir assembly for the first time.

BJP sources told IANS that talks between the National Conference and the BJP had hit a roadblock because of the BJP's insistence on having a Hindu chief minister. In Jammu, Finance Minister Jaitley said the BJP would play a prominent role in government formation and the decision on its exact nature had been left to party president Amit Shah.

Briefing reporters after meeting newly-elected BJP legislators, Jaitley underlined that his party got the largest popular vote in the state though it contested from only 76 of the 87 constituencies. He said the BJP was in touch with "independent and unattached" legislators.

"Whatever government is formed, the BJP should have a prominent role in the political process as the popular mandate in terms of highest vote is with us," he said. The National Conference, the sources said, was ready to support and even join a BJP-led coalition on the condition that the BJP gives up its demand for a Hindu chief minister.

At the same time, the PDP, while keeping its options open vis-a-vis the BJP, had sent feelers to Sajad Lone that he could be a deputy chief minister if he backed a PDP-Congress coalition, the sources said. Sajad Lone's People's Conference has won two seats. Congress candidates were elected from 15 constituencies. Another independent, Hakim Yaseen, has denied media reports that he had announced support for a BJP-led government.

Seven independents have also been elected to the assembly. A group of parties will need the support of 44 members to form a government. Earlier, Ram Madhav denied a meeting had taken place between the National Conference and the BJP leadership. Outgoing Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who has been in New Delhi since Wednesday, retweeted Ram Madhav's statement.

Some reports say the BJP would get the chief minister's post for a full six years while Abdullah would join the union cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A PDP spokesperson said the reports were meant to mount pressure on it to reach an early post-election agreement with the BJP.

"As of now, we have decided to wait and watch," the spokesperson told IANS. All the BJP legislators were elected from the Hindu-majority Jammu region while almost all PDP and National Conference legislators won from the largely Muslim Kashmir Valley.

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