SRINAGAR: After facing a public backlash in Jammu over the communal gang-rape-and-murder case, the BJP shunted its deputy chief minister Dr Nirmal Singh, who had reportedly opposed the CBI probe, and brought in new ‘hardline’ faces from the region.

Hours after he replaced the deputy chief minister and was sworn in, BJP leader Kavinder Gupta sparked a political row in J&K over his remarks that the ghastly crime involving the Kathua girl was a “small incident” that has got “undue attention”.

“Kathua is a small incident. It shouldn’t get much attention. What we should do is to ensure that such incidents do not happen again,” Gupta, who was the speaker of the J&K legislative assembly, told reporters after he was took oath of office along with four BJP leaders from Jammu.

Rajiv Jasrotia, the Member of Legislative Assembly from Kathua where the eight-year-old child was allegedly abducted and gang-raped before being killed in January this year, and Devinder Kumar Maniyal, MLA of adjoining Samba, were also administered oath of office today by governor NN Vohra.

According to some reports, both the MLAs participated in the rallies held in favor of the former revenue officer Sanji Ram, who masterminded the horrifying crime, his son and two police officers among the eight accused, evoking sharp reaction from former chief minister Omar Abdullah.

“2 BJP ministers removed in J&K for attending a pro-rapist rally & a MLA who is reported to have attended the same rally is promoted as a minister. Why are the BJP/ @MehboobaMufti confused about where they stand on the #Kathua rape?” he tweeted.

Targeting the chief minister, he continued, “What justice can one expect from @MehboobaMufti when her Deputy CM calls the rape & murder of an 8 year old “a minor incident that the media shouldn’t focus on”.

Other faces from the BJP who have been inducted into the cabinet include the state BJP president and MLA Jammu (West), Sat Paul Sharma, who has consistently demanded a CBI probe into the case, MLA Kishtwar, Sunil Kumar Sharma, who is likely to be elevated to a full-time cabinet minister and MLA Doda Shakti Raj.

The BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav and Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh attended the swearing-in ceremony which was held at the convention centre in Jammu.

A staunch RSS man, Gupta was caught in many controversies when the assembly used to be in session since the PDP-BJP alliance entered office.

After unceremoniously dumping forest minister Lal Singh and industries minister Chander Prakash Ganga over Kathu controversy, two more BJP ministers have been dropped from the cabinet including Priya Sethi, who had a Minister of State portfolio, and Bali Bhagat, the health minister, apparently due to “poor performance”.

The BJP’s ally, the PDP, has also dropped its rural development minister and MLA Lolab, Abdul Haq, reportedly on the grounds of “poor performance” while as Mohammad Khalil Bandh, MLA Pulwama and Ashraf Mir, MLA Sonwar, have been inducted into the cabinet of Mehbooba.

The PDP is also likely to rejig its already held portfolios following the unceremonious exit of finance minister Haseeb Drabu. The ministry is presently under Altaf Bukhari who is also the education minister. A source said the education ministry may be allocated to Imran Ansari or Basharat Bukhari, but no final decision has been made.

The cabinet reshuffle is seen by observers as part of a damage control exercise, most prominently by the BJP whose leaders have come under fire from sections supportive of the right accused in the Kathua rape and murder case.