Mixed Signals as Mehbooba Mufti Takes the Oath as J&K's First Woman CM
SRINAGAR: The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti Monday took oath as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in a low-key ceremony held at the Raj Bhawan in Jammu even as the BJP, her ally, held the separatists responsible for the “25 years of bloodshed” in the state.
In the first signal of turbulence that Mehbooba will have to deal with as chief minister in coming months and years, the BJP termed the veteran Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani, as a “political thug”. The PDP is hoping to resume talks with separatists in J&K, but the statement of a BJP spokesperson in Srinagar has dampened the spirits of the new coalition.
Reacting to Geelani’s statement that the students from other states studying in Kashmir “should keep in mind that Kashmir is not Delhi or any other Indian state”, the BJP spokesman Khalid Jehangir said: “Separatists, including Geelani, should stop day dreaming about Pakistan and Azadi. They have been taking people for a ride for the past 25-years and are responsible for the bloodshed and killings.”
“India is a democratic country that’s why people like Geelani are being tolerated despite their anti-India rant. For similar actions they would have been beheaded in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It's is in our civilisational and ethos that we tolerate even lunatic people like Geelani,” Jehangir said.
Mehbooba, who became the first woman chief minister of J&K, decided to largely go along with the team chosen by her late father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, to run the turbulent state. The oath of office and secrecy was administered to 17 cabinet ministers and six ministers of state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to congratulate Mehbooba and her deputy Dr Nirmal Singh, hoping that the state government will work for aspirations of the people of the state.
"Congratulations and best wishes to Mehbooba Mufti, Nirmal Singh and all those who took oath today (Monday). May the new government of Jammu and Kashmir leave no stone unturned in fulfilling dreams and aspirations of the people and take the state to new heights of progress," Modi said in a series of tweets.
The PDP MP, Tariq Hamid Karra, and Congress boycotted the ceremony while Muzaffar Hussain Baig was present there. The electronic media was also kept away from the swearing-in ceremony. "Apparently only the OB vans of DD & @ANI_news will be allowed to cover the swearing in ceremony of @mehbooba_mufti. Unprecedented gag order," Omar wrote on Twitter.
Omar said this had never happened before in the state."This has never happened before & certainly wasn't the case in 2009 or 2015. Can't fathom why #BJPDP media managers have done this?" he added.
The PDP dropped four ministers including former revenue minister Javed Mustafa Mir and ministers of state, Mohammad Ashraf Mir and Abdul Majid Padder, while the party inducted Syed Farooq Ahmad Andrabi, an uncle of Mehbooba, and Zahoor Ahmad Mir, who represents a south Kashmir constituency, in the cabinet.
Two berths have been kept vacant with sources claiming that Syed Altaf Bukhari, a close aide of Sayeed and former Public Works minister, who was also dropped from the cabinet, asked to give an explanation for his “misconduct” during the time when the state was under Governor’s rule.
There are unconfirmed reports that Bukhari had approached the BJP, claiming support of some MLAs when the two parties were holding negotiations over government formation. Bukhari could not be reached for his comments.
Besides Mehbooba, the PDP leaders who took oath of office are Naeem Akhtar, Ghulam Nabi Lone, Abdul Rahman Veeri, Abdul Haq Khan, Syed Basharat Bukhari, Dr Haseeb Drabu, Chaudhary Zulfiqar Ali, Imran Raza Ansari and Aasiya Naqash.
From the BJP side, the oath of office was administered to Dr Nirmal Singh, who is the deputy chief minister, Chander Prakash, Bali Baghat, Lal Singh, Tsering Dorjee, Abdul Gani Kohli and Priya Sethi. Two new faces - Ajay Nanda and Sham Lal Chaudhary, replaced former PHE minister Sukhnandan Kumar and minister of state, Pawan Gupta.
Peoples Conference chief, Sajad Gani Lone, also took oath of office and secrecy as a minister from the BJP quota. Interestingly, Sunil Kumar Sharma, the BJP MLA accused of murder in 2008 Kishtwar riots, also took oath as a minister in the PDP-BJP government.
According to reports, Mehbooba arrived at the civil secretariat in Jammu soon after taking oath where she was given guard of honour. The chief minister later took a round of the administrative offices and is scheduled to chair the first meeting of her council of ministers. The portfolios have not been distributed to the ministers.
The government formation has ended nearly three-month political crisis in the state triggered by the demise of chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.