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Sunday, April 3, 2016

With RSS calling shots, Kohli may have to clear out for Khajuria

BJP may replace 2 Cabinet Ministers, 2 Ministers of State in Mehbooba Govt

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, April 2: With the RSS calling shots in selection of Ministers and distribution of portfolios of the BJP quota in Mehbooba Mufti’s Government, at least four Ministers of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Council of Ministers are likely to be replaced during formation of the new PDP-BJP coalition on Monday.

Unlike in February 2015, when BJP leaders like President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, held the charge directly, this time around the task of the Cabinet formation and distribution of portfolios has been entrusted to the party’s ideological arm RSS. Even as the senior BJP leader and union Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley has virtually replaced General Secretary and RSS organisational representative Ram Madhav in the decision making with regard to alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagpur is holding key to constitution of Mehbooba’s Cabinet.

Parallel to Friday’s visible deliberations at the former Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh’s residence, and BJP’s two-day Executive meet that began on Saturday, hectic activity is underway for selection of BJP’s new team of Ministers and allocation of portfolios from Jammu to New Delhi.

According to the insiders, BJP leaders’ formal get-together at Nirmal Singh’s home on Friday evening was followed by a closed-door meeting attended by Ram Madhav, BJP’s J&K President Sat Sharma, Nirmal Singh, BJP’s J&K General Secretary and RSS organisational representative Ashok Kaul and senior RSS Pracharak Ramesh Pappa. It formulated a list of 10 would-be Cabinet Ministers. It decided to drop two of the three Ministers of State and shortlisted 5 names for the three berths in the lower tier of the Council of Ministers.

Well placed political sources revealed to STATE TIMES that the final trimming of the list was done thereafter by the three-member RSS panel comprising Ashok Kaul, RSS General Secretary Purshottam Dadeechi and Ramesh Pappa. “After clearance at various levels in New Delhi and Nagpur, the list would be forwarded to Governor Vohra in the afternoon on Sunday”, said a source.

Even as Ms Mufti is understood to have put her foot down and resisted BJP’s efforts to “balance the Cabinet proportion”---euphemism for having 9 each Ministers of PDP and BJP sides in the Cabinet---sources insist that the BJP-RSS rendezvous prepared a list of 10 names for the Cabinet. It included all the eight Cabinet Ministers of Mufti Government, including the associate member Sajjad Lone, plus senior BJP leader and MLC Ashok Khajuria and MLA Suchetgarh Sham Lal Choudhary.

“If BJP fails to get one or two additional berths in the Cabinet, (former Minister incharge Transport) Abdul Gani Kohli may have to clear out for Ashok Khajuria. This has been decided by the RSS panel. Among the MOSs, Pawan Gupta and Priya Sethi are likely to be dropped for inclusion of two new faces”, said a highly placed source. According to him, prospects of the former Irrigation Minister Sukhnandan Kumar and former Health Minister Lal Singh are only “fifty-fifty”.

In Mufti Sayeed’s Cabinet, the BJP team comprised Nirmal Singh (Deputy Chief Minister), Lal Singh, Bali Bhagat, Sukhnandan Kumar, Chander Prakash Ganga, Abdul Gani Kohli and Tsering Dorjay besides the BJP ally Sajjad Lone. With continuation of Lone, BJP is not under considerable pressure to retain its own Muslim face Kohli who was the only of its Muslim candidates returned in 2014. Charges of misuse of official position and indulgence in corruption against four former Ministers of BJP are also influencing constitution of the new team.

One of the senior leaders of BJP, Khajuria has served the party since long and he enjoys his long time RSS linkage. Sham Choudhary is also said to be the favourite of some men of consequence in BJP and RSS.

If the sources are to be believed, MLA Kishtwar Sunil Sharma is the only MOS of BJP side who will be retained. While Priya Sethi, according to sources, was being considered for an important party position, BJP could dispense with its Udhampur rebel Pawan Gupta who had contested and won the Assembly election of 2014 against the BJP’s official candidate. MLA Ram Nagar R.S. Pathania, MLA Kathua Rajiv Jasrotia, MLA Reasi Ajay Nanda and MLA Doda Shakti Parihar are being strongly supported for the two replacements of Mrs Sethi and Mr Gupta.

According to these sources, BJP side could affect a major reshuffle of its portfolios in both tiers of the Council of Ministers. This is likely to be finalised by Sunday evening.

As of new, there is no strong indication of a replacement of Minister from the PDP side, though well-placed sources insist that certain key portfolios would change.

[Published in today's STATE TIMES]

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