Mehbooba Mufti sworn in as Chief Minister
With two slots vacant, Council of Ministers balanced as per BJP’s demand
Karra boycotts Mehbooba’s oath-taking, protests Naeem’s and Drabu’s induction
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz_______
JAMMU, April 4: Ending nearly three-month-long Governor’s rule following her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death on January 7, Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti was on Monday sworn in as the 13th Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and head of the second PDP-BJP coalition, alongwith 22 members of her Council of Ministers at a low-key function at Raj Bhawan.
Even as nearly 1,400 guests, mostly leaders and activists of the two ruling parties, attended the swearing-in ceremony, very few of the prominent leaders were conspicuous by their presence. They included former Chief Ministers Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, even as all other National Conference (NC) leaders---with exception of Nazir Ahmad Gurezi, were absent and Congress boycotted the event to register its protest against the BJP regime’s treatment of the recent political crises in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Leaders of National Panthers Party were also absent. However, legislators of both the coalition parties participated in the swearing-in ceremony.
Contrary to Mufti Sayeed’s oath-taking on March 1, 2015, when a galaxy of the BJP leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, made it a high-profile event, the entourage from the Centre on Monday was limited to only three union Ministers---Venkaiah Naidu, Harsimrat Kour and Dr Jitendra Singh---besides BJP’s National General Secretary Ram Madhav. Senior television journalist Rajat Sharma accompanied Ms Kour.
Governor Narendra Nath Vohra administered oath of office and secrecy to 56-year-old Mehbooba Mufti at 11.00 a.m. when the Central leaders were still on way to Raj Bhawan. She took oath in Urdu. From the PDP side, all but Haseeb Drabu and Basharat Bukhari opted to take oath in Urdu. While as Drabu chose English, Bukhari took oath in chaste Kashmiri. On the other hand, all BJP nominees, except Abdul Gani Kohli, Chering Dorjay, Lal Singh and Sajjad Lone, took oath in Hindi. While as Lal Singh read out the script in Dogri, Kohli, Lone and Dorjay took oath in English.
As compared to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s team of 25 Ministers---which had 11 Cabinet Ministers (including CM) from PDP and 8 Cabinet Ministers from BJP side, besides 3 each Ministers of State from PDP and BJP---Governor inducted 8 each Cabinet Ministers of PDP and BJP besides the CM. He also inducted 3 each of PDP and BJP as Ministers of Sate, leaving two slots vacant. With this BJP has significantly realised its objective of having equal number of Ministers, as that of PDP, in the Council of Ministers. Now both the parties have 8 each Cabinet Ministers and 3 each Ministers of State in the Council, besides the CM who is from PDP.
BJP activists sounded jubilant that the “anomaly” stood removed with the induction of 11 each Ministers from PDP and BJP. However, the PDP leaders insisted that Ms Mufti would induct two more of the PDP’s Ministers in her Cabinet “at an appropriate time”. They refused to accept that Ms Mufti had surrendered two of her Cabinet berths.
6 Mufti Ministers dropped
In a significant development, six of Mufti Sayeed’s Ministers---4 from PDP and 2 from BJP---were not inducted in Mehbooba’s Council of Ministers. Mehbooba dropped high-profile Minister of Works in Sayeed’s Cabinet and longtime manager of PDP’s finances Syed Altaf Bukhari, Minister of Revenue in Sayeed’s Cabinet Javed Mustafa Mir besides Ministers of State Abdul Majid Paddar and Mohammad Ashraf Mir. BJP dropped Minister of Irrigation in Sayeed’s Cabinet Sukhnandan Kumar and the former Minister of State (Finance) Pawan Gupta.
Son of the senior BJP late Lala Shiv Charan Gupta, Pawan Gupta had associated himself with BJP after turning a rebel, contesting as an Independent candidate and defeating BJP’s official candidate in Udhampur in 2014 Assembly elections. He was a favourite of Rajnath Singh-led BJP but Amit Shah’s team did not grant him ticket.
4 new faces inducted
Even as PDP did not induct any new face in the Cabinet, BJP introduced MLA Suchetgarh Sham Lal Choudhary in place of Sukhnandan Kumar in the Cabinet. BJP repeated two of its MOSs Sunil Sharma and Priya Sethi and replaced Pawan Gupta with MLA Reasi Ajay Nanda.
Of the three of Sayeed’s MOSs, PDP repeated only Asiea Naqash, MLA from Hazratbal and the Srinagar-Budgam Lok Sabha member Tariq Hamid Karra’s sister-in-law. It replaced Abdul Majid Paddar and Mohammad Ashraf Mir with Syed Farooq Andrabi and Zahoor Ahmad Mir. Andrabi, who defeated J&K Pradesh Congress Committee President and former Minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir in Dooru segment of Anantnag district, happens to be a close relative of Ms Mufti. Zahoor Mir, whose father Abdul Aziz Mir, then MLA Pampore, was gunned down by militants in 2002, has won all Assembly elections in Pampore since 2002-03.
Tariq Karra’s boycott
In another significant development, PDP’s founder member and incumbent Lok Sabha member from Central Kashmir, Tariq Hamid Karra, boycotted Mehbooba Mufti’s swearing-in ceremony. He said that with his boycott he was registering his protest against the induction of three of the PDP’s leaders---Altaf Bukhari, Naeem Akhtar and Haseeb Drabu. Bukhari was dropped but Naeem Akhtar and Drabu were both repeated by Ms Mufti. Karra alleged that that the high profile PDP troika were responsible for “failure” of Mufti Sayeed’s government and that they had secretly collaborated with the Centre in causing a split in the party.