Major reshuffle: 10 new Ministers inducted

Major reshuffle: 10 new Ministers inducted

15 January 2013
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today effected a major reshuffle in the Council of Ministry bringing in 10 new faces including six in the Cabinet rank (four from National Conference and two from Congress) and four Ministers of State including three with Independent charge and dropping seven others-six from NC (4 of Cabinet rank and two MoS) and one from Congress. With today's reshuffle, which was most likely to be the last of National Conference-Congress coalition Government, which still has a little less than two years of its term, all 25 posts in the Council of Ministry have been filled up. Earlier, there had been three vacancies in the Cabinet. While Omar dropped seven Ministers, he inducted 10, thus, filling all slots in the Ministry. Of 25 Ministers including the Chief Minister, 24 were MLAs while NC leader Ajay Sadhotra, a two time MLA from Marh earlier, was the lone MLC. The previous Ministry had Medical Education Minister RS Chib as lone MLC, who was dropped by the Congress today. Governor NN Vohra has accepted resignations of all seven Ministers while Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone, who was inducted as a Cabinet Minister, submitted his resignation to Deputy Speaker Sartaj Madni in the afternoon, which has also been accepted. Resignations of two Advisors to Chief Minister-Devender Rana (Political) and Mubarak Gul besides two chairpersons-Mushtaq Bukhari, vice chairman, Advisory Board for Development of Pahari Speaking People and Rashpal Singh, vice chairman of Advisory Board for Development of Kissans-were accepted by the Chief Minister. Now, there would be no Advisors to the Chief Minister. The working of the Legislative Assembly including preparations of the budget session would be seen after by Mr Madni till the new Speaker was elected at the start of the session. Advisor to Chief Minister, Mubarak Gul, a third consecutive time MLA from Iddgah in Srinagar district, was tipped to be the new Speaker. Governor NN Vohra administered the oath of office and secrecy to new Ministers in the sprawling lawns of Raj Bhawan at 4 pm today. The ceremony was among others attended by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, AICC (I) general secretary, Incharge J&K, Mohan Prakash, PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz and a number of Cabinet Ministers, legislators and bureaucrats. Six Cabinet Ministers, who were inducted into the Ministry today, included Mohammad Akbar Lone, former Speaker and MLA Sonawari, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, MLA Handwara, Ajay Sadhotra, MLC and Saifullah Mir, MLA Kupwara (all from NC), Abdul Mujeed Wani, MLA Doda and GA Mir, MLA Dooru (both from Congress). Three NC legislators were inducted as Ministers of State with Independent charge. They were Sajjad Ahmad Kitchloo, a second time MLA from Kishtwar, Feroz Ahmad Khan, MLA Zanskar in Kargil district and Nazir Ahmad Khan Gurezi, MLA Gurez in Bandipora district. Congress MLA from Banihal Vikar Rasool Wani was the lone Minister of State to be sworn-in today. Prior to the swearing-in ceremony, the Chief Minister forwarded resignations of seven Ministers to the Governor, which Mr Vohra accepted. The Ministers, who have been dropped, included Surjit Singh Slathia (Industries and Commerce), Qamar Ali Akhoon (Transport and CAPD), Abdul Gani Malik (Higher Education), Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi (Animal and Sheep Husbandry), all from NC in the Cabinet rank, RS Chib (Medical Education), who was lone Congress legislators to be dropped, Nasir Aslam Wani (MoS Home, Tourism and Housing and Urban Development) and Javid Ahmad Dar (MoS Works), both from NC. Notwithstanding the fact that this appeared to be the last reshuffle of present NC-Congress coalition Government, Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah and Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir were conspicuous by their absence from the oath ceremony. However, AICC (I) general secretary, Incharge J&K Mohan Prakash and PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz attended the oath ceremony. NC leader and former Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone was the first to take oath followed by Choudhary Ramzan, Ajay Sadhotra, GA Mir, Mujeed Wani and Saifullah Mir. Among MoS, Sajjad Kitchloo was the first to take oath followed by Feroz Khan, Nazir Gurezi and Vikar Rasool. The oath ceremony, which started at 4 pm lasted about 25 minutes. Mystery shrouded the appearance of three names of incumbent Ministers of State in the enclosure meant for new Ministers on front row of the Raj Bhawan lawns. The names of Dr Manohar Lal Sharma, Shabir Ahmad Khan and Aijaz Ahmad Khan had been pasted on the chairs meant for the Ministers, who had to take oath. While Shabir and Aijaz had occupied the chairs, Dr Sharma was sitting on right side of the sitting arrangement with Tara Chand. There had been speculations that the trio could be elevated for which they had to take oath but this didn't happen. With today's reshuffle, which was third in NC-Congress coalition Government, all 25 vacancies in the Council of Ministry have been filled up. Both NC and Congress now have 12 Ministers each. The NC's figure included the Chief Minister. Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir belonged to the DPN. Of 12 NC Ministers, eight belonged to Cabinet rank, three Ministers of State with Independent charge and the Chief Minister. Of 12 Congress Ministers, eight were in the rank of Cabinet, two MoS with Independent charge and two MoS. Among 25 Ministers, Ajay Sadhotra is the lone MLC while 24 others were MLAs. In the previous Ministry, RS Chib of Congress was the lone MLC. Mr Chib told the Excelsior that he was dropped as his term in the Upper House was expiring on March 15 this year. In today's expansion, the National Conference has given representation to remote and backward districts of Kupwara, Bandipora, Kishtwar, Kargil while the Congress has fulfilled the demand of erstwhile Doda district for representation by inducting two Ministers from the area today. Official sources said the induction of experienced leaders like Mohammad Akbar Lone, who had handled a very tough and strong opposition effectively in the Assembly during past four years, Ajay Sadhotra and Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, two party veterans, who had earlier also held important portfolios and Saifullah Mir, a third time MLA from Kupwara in the Cabinet by the Chief Minister was aimed at given a new look to the Cabinet. The inclusion of Sajjad Ahmad Kitchloo, the lone NC MLA in entire erstwhile Doda district was aimed at strengthening the party position in Chenab Valley. Worthwhile to mention that of six Assembly seats in Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts, five belonged to Congress and only one to the NC. Kitchloo had won from Kishtwar for second time. Feroz Khan and Nazir Gurezi represented the most backward and remote areas of Zanskar in Kargil district and Gurez in Bandipora district. Mr Lone also hailed from Bandipora district while Ramzan and Saifullah hailed from Kupwara, which had been rated among five poorest districts in the State. Another MLA from Kupwara district, Kafeel-ur-Rehman, was today made vice chairman of Pahari Board with MoS status. Sources said the Congress has given two Ministerial berths to erstwhile Doda district by inducting Abdul Mujeed Wani, MLA Doda as Cabinet Minister and Vikar Rasool, MLA Banihal as MoS. A couple of months ago, all Congress legislators from Doda belt had boycotted the party meet against denial of representation. With the induction of GA Mir as Cabinet Minister, all three Congress MLAs from Kashmir Valley have become Cabinet Ministers. Two other MLAs-Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed and Taj Mohi-ud-Din were already the Cabinet Ministers. While Mir and Wani had earlier served as MoS in Congress-PDP coalition Government, this was maiden entry of Vikar Rasool in the Ministry. GA Mir was also a Minister in Congress-PDP coalition Government. Mohammad Akbar Lone, Saifullah Mir, Sajjad Kitchloo, Feroz Khan and Nazir Gurezi have joined the Council of Ministry for the first time while Choudhary Ramzan and Ajay Sadhotra had earlier also served as Ministers. Both of them were Ministers in Farooq Abdullah regime from 1996-2002. Ramzan had lost Handwara seat in 2002 but regained it for the NC in 2008 while Sadhotra had won the election in 2002 and played effective role of opposition but lost in 2008. He was nominated to the Upper House in 2009. Sources said Mubarak Gul, who was also a third time MLA and whose resignation as Advisor to Chief Minister was accepted by the Chief Minister today, was tipped to be new Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Earlier in the day, Mr Lone submitted his resignation to Deputy Speaker Sartaj Madni, who accepted it, thus, clearing the decks for induction of the Speaker in the Ministry. Sources said till the budget session, Mr Madni would have to look all responsibilities of starting the budget session. Election of the Speaker could be held on first or second day of the budget session for which the Government had to give a notice. Going by the NC-Congress strength in the Assembly, the coalition would have a smooth sailing in electing its nominee as the Speaker. Sources added that Mr Gul was likely to be elected as the new Speaker. Yesterday, Omar had obtained resignations of all 10 Ministers (10 of Cabinet rank and two MoS) besides two Advisors and three chairpersons of Commissions-Board. Of them, Omar accepted resignations of six Ministers, both of his Advisors and two chairpersons of the Boards. All six Ministers, two Advisors and two chairpersons of the Boards, whose resignations have been accepted, have been assigned important posts in the organizational structure of the National Conference. Industries and Commerce Minister Surjit Singh Slathia and Higher Education Minister Abdul Gani Malik were the only Ministers of NC in Jammu region, both of whom had resigned yesterday and were dropped from the Cabinet. In their places, the NC brought in Ajay Sadhotra and Sajjad Ahmad Kitchloo. In Kargil, the NC inducted Feroz Ahmad Khan from Zanskar as MoS with Independent charge in place of Qamar Ali Akhoon, MLA Kargil, who held the charge of CAPD and Transport in the Ministry. From Kashmir Valley, the NC has dropped Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi, Cabinet Minister for Animal and Sheep Husbandry and two MoS Nasir Aslam Wani and Javaid Ahmad Dar and brought in Mohammad Akbar Lone, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, Saifullah Mir and Nazir Gurezi. The Congress, on the other, dropped Medical Education Minister RS Chib from Jammu region and brought two faces from erstwhile Doda district including Mujeed Wani and Vikar Rasool besides GA Mir from Kashmir. All three Congress MLAs from Jammu district are Cabinet Ministers including Tara Chand, Sham Lal Sharma and Raman Bhalla. Sources said Gurez, Zanskar and Banihal have got representation in the Council of Ministry for the first time. As per the Constitutional provisions in Jammu and Kashmir, the State can have a maximum of 25 Ministers (20 per cent of total strength of both Houses of the Legislature). In Parliament and Assemblies, the maximum strength of the Ministry is confined to 15 per cent of total strength of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies. The expansion in the Council of Ministry was effected after nearly three and a half years. The last reshuffle had taken place on July 12, 2009 with the induction of 13 Ministers, eight of Cabinet rank and five MoS with two of them Aijaz Khan and Dr Manohar Lal Sharma getting Independent charge. Six Ministers each were sworn in from NC and Congress and one from DPN then. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah along with nine Ministers had taken oath on January 5, 2009. Of 10 Ministers including the CM sworn-in that day, five each belonged to NC and Congress. The July reshuffle had taken strength of the Council of Ministry including the CM to 23 with two vacancies-one each of NC and Congress. However, after the removal of Mr Saroori on August 24, 2010, the strength of the Ministry had come down to 22 taking total vacancies to three and Congress to two. Sidelights Oath Ceremony * The oath ceremony of new Ministers began at 4 pm sharp with the arrival of Governor NN Vohra to the dais and start of national anthem. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had reached the Raj Bhawan about five minutes ahead of the schedule. * All 10 Ministers took oath in English. Eight MLAs took oath in the name of God while Saifullah Mir and Feroz Ahmad Khan of NC took oath in the name of Lord. * Though Urdu is official language of the State, none of 10 Ministers took oath in Urdu. * Congress MLA from Banihal Vakar Rasool Wani started reading the oath even before the Governor had started the word ‘I’. He immediately realized his mistake and said sorry. Later, he repeated the oath behind the Governor. * Governor’s Principal Secretary Navin Choudhary called names of the MLAs for taking oath. * Discontent in both coalition partners-NC and Congress was visible at the oath ceremony as some of the dropped Ministers didn’t make it to the venue. Congress leader RS Chib, who was dropped as Medical Education Minister and NC leader Surjit Singh Slathia, who was dropped as Industries and Commerce Minister, abstained from the ceremony. All other dropped NC Ministers were present. * Congress formidable candidate for ministry, GM Saroori, MLA Inderwal too didn’t turn up at the function. * AICC (I) general secretary, Incharge J&K, Mohan Prakash, PCC (I) chief Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz and PCC (I) spokesman Ravinder Sharma arrived together at the venue at the stroke of 4 pm when national anthem had just started to play. They had to stand out of their vehicles till the anthem was over. * While four MLAs of the PDP were present at the oath ceremony, the Leader of Opposition Mehbooba Mufti was absent. The BJP and National Panthers Party (NPP) boycotted the oath ceremony. Lone JSM MLA Ashwani Sharma was present. * All three previous Chief Ministers including Dr Farooq Abdullah (NC), Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress) and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (PDP) were absent. Farooq and Azad didn’t come to Jammu from New Delhi. * Congress Minister Raman Bhalla came to the venue along with his wife and children. NC’s new entrant in the Cabinet Ajay Sadhotra also came along with his family members. * Congress MLA Vakar Rasool supporting party dress with black ‘sherwani’ and pyjama with red flower. * All NC Ministers went to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and hugged him or shook hands with him after taking the oath. * Congress Ministers shook hands with Mohan Prakash and Prof Soz before meeting the Chief Minister. * Seats of Mohan Prakash and Prof Soz had been kept on left side while that of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister were on right side. * NC Minister Ajay Sadhotra passed smile toward the Chief Minister from the dais after taking oath and later went to shake hands with him. Mr Sadhotra also expressed gesture towards the media row. Mr Ramzan walked up to the media row and was seen shaking hands with the press people. He reminded one of the woman scribe that she had taken his first interview. * Governor NN Vohra shook hands with Ministers before and after the oath and exchanged greetings with them. * The oath ceremony lasted about 25 minutes. * The new Ministers were garlanded by their supporters. * One of the newly inducted Congress Minister of Cabinet rank was seen smoking in the Raj Bhawan lawns after the oath ceremony.