Jammu, Jan. 14: The two-and-a-half-month-old ministry of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was expanded today amid some loud protests.
The lone Congress woman MLA, Suman Bhagat, walked out of the swearing-in ceremony, alleging discrimination, and raised doubts about the success of the People’s Democratic Party-Congress coalition government.
Some other MLAs, too, made clear their displeasure and unhappiness over their exclusion from the ministry.
The chief minister said he might go in for another expansion and rebuffed the criticism that the ministry was already big. “Our challenges are far greater.”
Mufti also clarified that he would give representation to women by making them the head of the Women’s Welfare Board and the women’s rights Panel.
Governor Girish Chandra Saxena administered the oath of office to the new ministers at a simple ceremony on the lawns of Raj Bhavan.
There were eight new Cabinet ministers: four from the Congress, two from the PDP and two Independents. Two other Independents, inducted as ministers of state, were elevated to Cabinet rank.
The PDP inducted into the Cabinet Qazi Mohammad Afzal, who had trounced National Conference president Omar Abdullah, and Abdul Aziz Zargar, who had defeated then tourism minister Sakina Itoo.
The party also bagged its share of four among the 12 ministers of state. They are Abdul Rehman Veeri, Syed Bashir Ahmad, Abdul Ghaffar Sofi and Javed Mustafa Mir.
The Congress’s Taj Mohi-ud-din, Mohammad Sharief Niaz, Madan Lal Sharma and Lal Singh were inducted into the Cabinet. Three others, Gharu Ram, Jugal Kishore Sharma and Ghulam Ahmad Mir, were inducted as ministers of state.
The Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party’s Yashpal Kundal was made a minister of state.
The two Independents inducted were Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Sofi, who is a former leader of the People’s Conference, and Hakim Mohammad Yasin.
Four other Independents, Raman Matoo, Abdul Majid Wani, Aijaz Ahmad Khan and Thakur Puran Singh, were made ministers of state.
According to sources, Mufti has had in mind a Cabinet that would have representatives from across the state.
Even before the expansion, the government has been looking for a “suitable replacement” for Governor Saxena, who completes his term on May 2. The state has started enquiring about candidates who would see eye to eye with the coalition government.
The Centre is toying with the idea of sending to the state either A.S. Dullat, officer on special duty in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), or former BSF director-general Gurbachan Jagat, who is now a Union Public Service Commission member.
The state, however, has not shown much enthusiasm over the Centre’s choices. “We may prefer someone else,” a senior state minister said.
For now, Mufti has not offered any choice of candidates for Governor. His aides are looking for a suitable candidate.