The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spurned Mufti MLAs lob switchover threat

Jammu, Jan. 19: The Cabinet expansion over, the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir is facing a near revolt, with some MLAs toying with the idea of quitting the party and joining hands with Omar Abdullah’s National Conference, the main Opposition party.

The revolt first took shape in the form of protest rallies the disgruntled MLAs organised on the streets. Now, they have come out in the open and told the media that without ministry berths, they would prefer to quit the Assembly seats or think of other alternatives.

While Mohammad Shafi Bhat and Ghulam Mohammad Saroori approached the media to express their displeasure, their colleagues, Raman Bhalla and Suman Bhagat, brought out their supporters on the streets for a show of strength. Other than blocking traffic, the supporters tried immolating themselves.

The disgruntled MLAs have refused to accept anything short of a ministerial berth. “Tell them (the government) that I am not interested in being chairperson of any board. I want a place in the Cabinet, nothing else,” Bhagat said.

Reportedly, some of the angry Congress legislators have established contact with the National Conference leadership. According to sources, backroom deals are being thrashed out.

After the Assembly polls threw up a People’s Democratic Party-Congress coalition government, most members of the ruling parties wanted a ministerial berth, considering the opportunity a now-or-never chance.

The Congress, in particular, had more contenders for the berths than the other government constituents — including the Panthers’ Party — because it had come to power in the state after more than 12 years.

The Congress has 20 MLAs, 15 from the Jammu region. As many as 10 are ministers and one the Speaker, leaving the remaining nine MLAs hugely disappointed.

They are particularly sore over the induction of eight Independents into the ministry. Half the Independents are Cabinet ministers and the rest are ministers of state.

“Are we any less than them (the Independents) in status'” said Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, elected from Inderwal constituency of Doda district.

State Congress chief Ghulam Nabi Azad chose cousin Mohammad Sharief Niaz from Doda for the Cabinet and Independent Abdul Majid Wani from the same district as minister of state.

Niaz is the power minister and Wani is in the housing and urban development ministry.

Not only the disgruntled Congress MLAS, even some Independents, who did not find a ministry berth, are said to be forming a group to chalk out a strategy for the future.

The reported moves have rung the alarm bells for the coalition government because the National Conference, with 29 MLAs, needs only 15 more to form an alternative government.

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