In a major reshuffle in his Council of Minister, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has inducted 10 legislators of National Conference and Congress parties as Ministers while dropping seven -- six of NC and one of Congress -- in the state winter capital on Tuesday.
Governor Narender Nath Vohra administered the oath of office and secrecy to NC’s Mohamamd Akbar Lone as Cabinet Minister in the beginning of the swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhawan at 4.00 p.m. Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Lone submitted his resignation as Speaker to Chief Minister and Governor through Deputy Speaker Mohammad Sartaj Madni. He functioned as Speaker of Legislative Assembly for nearly four years.
Sources told The Hindu that Deputy Speaker Mr. Madni, who is the opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s MLA, would retain the charge of Speaker till election of a new incumbent from NC on the first day of the budgest session in the end of February. NC’s senior legislator, Mubarak Gul, is now likely to be appointed as the new Speaker.
Others who took oath are NC’s Chowdhary Mohammad Ramzan, Ajay Sadhotra, Mir Saifullah, Nazir Ahmed Khan Gurezi, Feroz Ahmed Khan and Sajad Ahmed Kichloo. While as Mr. Sadhotra is NC’s Member in Legislative Council, all others are the party’s members in Legislative Assembly.
Before the swearing-in, Governor accepted the resignations of NC’s Cabinet Ministers, Abdul Gani Malik, Qamar Ali Akhoon, Aga Syed Ruhullah as also those of the two junior Ministers, Nasir Aslam Wani and Javed Ahmed Dar.
Minister of Medical Education, R.S. Chib, whose term as MLC is expiring in March 2013, is the only Minister from Congress whose resignation was forwarded to Raj Bhawan by Chief Minister and accepted by the Governor.
In addition to the seven new faces from NC, three MLAs of Congress party were also inducted as Ministers. They are former Ministers Ghulam Ahmed Mir and Abdul Majid Wani besides the party’s first time MLA from Banihal, Weqar Rasool Wani.
There were a total of 22 Ministers in Mr. Abdullah’s Council of Ministers, which could have a maximum of 25 Ministers or 20 percent of the total strength of the bicameral House - 89 MLAs and 36 MLCs.
With Tuesday’s expansion/reshuffle, Mr. Abdullah is now heading a 25-member Council of Ministers.
Mr. Abdullah, who also functions as NC’s Working President, has appointed his high-profile Political Adviser Devender Singh Rana as the party’s Provincial President in Jammu and the outgoing Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, as Provincial President Kashmir. Several other organisational structure changes have also been affected to accommodate the Ministers dropped from the government, ahead of the scheduled Lok Sabha and Assembly elections of 2014.
Sources in Chief Minister’s Secretariat told The Hindu that Mr. Omar Abdullah would allocate portfolios to the newly-inducted Ministers with a major shake up later on Tuesday. However, these sources, said, senior Ministers like Abdul Rahim Rather [Finance], Mian Altaf Ahmed [Forest] and Tara Chand [Deputy CM and Minister of Housing and Urban Development] were likely to retain their existing portfolios.
Decision with regard to portfolios of the Congress Ministers was being taken by J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Prof Saif-ud-din Soz, in consultation with AICC General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad and the party high command in New Delhi. Congress and NC had distributed the portfolios at the time of the formation of the coalition government in January 2009. Apart from the two allies, independent MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir, who is owned by Congress as its ‘associate member’, has been functioning as a Minister in Mr. Abdullah’s Cabinet.