Mehbooba chooses dad’s team, BJP likely to do minor rejig

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The swearing-in ceremony of the PDP-BJP coalition government is likely to be held on April 4 in Jammu, nearly three months after the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, passed away.

Officials said the two parties have conveyed to the Governor NN Vohra that they would like the swearing-in ceremony to take place on April 4. However, sources said the Raj Bhawan has not confirmed the date so far. Senior leaders of the two parties said Mehbooba Mufti, who will become the first woman chief minister of J&K, will continue with the team chosen by her father to run the state, although there might be a minor rejig to adjust the additional portfolios held by Sayeed during his time.

According to a PDP leader close to the party President Mehbooba Mufti, BJP has surrendered its claim on two Cabinet berths and decided to play second fiddle to the PDP in the new government. “She has put her foot down and refused to budge an inch. She made it clear to them that they would have to be content with what they accepted last year”, the PDP leader said.

He said that 11 Cabinet Ministers of PDP including Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti) and 8 Cabinet Ministers of BJP including Sajjad Lone of Peoples Conference besides 6 MOSs (3 each from PDP and BJP) will be sworn in on April 4. However, a senior BJP leader said that PDP would have to drop one Minister and concede one cabinet berth for BJP’s new face. He said that the BJP high command has assured the state unit that anomaly in the cabinet would be rectified and both the parties would have equal share.

Sources said the party might also effect a couple of changes in its share of portfolios due to ‘under-performance’ of some legislators as ministers, which resulted in ‘avoidable controversies’ that hit PDP-BJP coalition government during its first, ten month tenure. With the popularity of the PDP at its lowest in Kashmir Valley following Sayeed’s demise at AIIMS in New Delhi on January 7, an inconsolable Mehbooba refused to take oath, pushing the state under the Governor’s rule on the next day.

Having learnt from her father’s experience with BJP, the PDP president played hardball, cancelling a meeting with the Prime Minister last month after things apparently didn’t go well in an earlier meeting with the BJP president Amit Shah.

Modi is then learnt to have stepped in to save the alliance and used his emissaries in J&K, including the Governor NN Vohra, to convey to the PDP president that the Prime Minister is expecting to meet her last week.

This was preceded by the extension of an olive branch to the PDP when the union finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the party is committed to implement the governance agenda in the state, thus saving the coalition that was almost written off just a day earlier.

Seeking Confidence Building Measures from the BJP-led Centre, the PDP president emerged confident from her “positive” meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi which sealed the alliance between the two parties.

BJP had delayed the oath-taking ceremony, given the inauspiciousness of days preceding the Navratras and the party too is contemplating bringing new faces into the cabinet. At the recent core group meeting in Jammu, many legislators of party sought equitable distribution of power and urged the party high command to raise the matter with the PDP.

According to sources, the issue had also come up during the coordination committee meeting of the two parties during their first innings under Sayeed. “Such issues must be raised on relevant platforms. If they have a demand, we can have two.

Alliance was formalized between Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mehbooba is only carrying it forward,” a PDP leader said, wishing anonymity. According to sources, the BJP high-command has communicated to its state leaders to fully support Mehbooba as chief minister and follow ‘agenda of the alliance’.

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