The Jammu and Kashmir government underwent a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, as eight legislators, including former state Assembly speaker Kavinder Gupta, were sworn in as ministers. The Mehbooba Mufti-led government inducted six ministers from the BJP and two from the PDP. Here is a brief look at the new faces part of the state Cabinet.
Gupta is the new deputy chief minister of the state, replacing Nirmal Singh. According to The Indian Express, Gupta joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at the age of 13. He spent 13 months in prison during the Emergency. The 59-year-old served three consecutive terms as mayor of Jammu from 2005 to 2010, which is a record.
An old BJP hand, Gupta has also served as general secretary of the BJP's state unit. He had won the 2014 Assembly election from Gandhinagar constituency in Jammu, where he defeated sitting Congress minister Raman Bhalla.
Following the PDP-BJP's Assembly election win in 2014, Gupta was unanimously elected Speaker of the House.
News18 reported that Gupta said, "The Kathua incident was a small thing, it shouldn't have been given all this hype. We should ensure that incident like this should not be repeated again. We need to get the girl (the Kathua rape case victim) justice. These are some of the biggest challenges before the government today."
After his comments sparked outrage, Gupta went on to issue a clarification and said people should stop debating the matter. "Kathua issue is sub-judice. The Supreme Court will decide on the matter, and continuously debating on the issue is not right. Giving this matter weight is not a good thing. I said that there are a lot of issues like this and people should not try to spark anger over it (the comments)", he told ANI.
Gupta, however, is not new to controversy. The minister had blamed Rohingya Muslims for the attack on the army camp at Sunjwan earlier in February this year, in which six army men and four militants were killed while many others were injured.
According to Scroll, in October 2015, months after the coalition government was formed in the state, Gupta had declared that he was a proud member of the RSS. "It is a matter of pride that I am an RSS member but here I am the speaker only," Gupta had reportedly said in the Assembly.
Gupta had also courted controversy when he took part in an RSS rally which was taken out in Jammu on 26 October, 2015.
The BJP inducted Rajiv Jasrotia, its Kathua MLA — who took part in the rally organised by Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the rape and murder of eight-year-old girl — into the Council of Ministers.
PTI reported that Jasrotia, born on 26 October, 1973, was a student leader. He served as head of the municipal committee of Hiranagar for four years. Presently a state general secretary of the BJP, he was elected a member of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative Assembly from Kathua.
Jasrotiya was in the news recently for having gone missing after the Kathua rape and murder case came to the limelight. He went missing after he was questioned about the incident, which occurred in his constituency.
According to News18, Jasrotiya's representation is expected to serve as a signal to BJP voters and party cadres, who were miffed with the party high command for forcing ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga to resign for participating in a rally in support of the rape-accused in the Kathua case, that the party is still stands by them.
Jasrotia has been given the forest portfolio, which was earlier held by Lal Singh, the Scroll report said.
Sharma began his active political career in 1997 with the BJP and is currently the chief of the party's Jammu and Kashmir state unit. Born on 4 August, 1961, in the border town of RS Pura in Jammu district, Sharma completed his BSc and went on to become a chartered accountant.
He is general secretary of the Trikuta Samvad Kendra and an executive member of the Ved Mandir Committee among others.
Born into a family with an RSS background, he was jailed during the Emergency. In 2014, he won from the Jammu West constituency by a huge margin of 50,629 votes, the highest margin recorded in the history of Jammu and Kashmir.
Sharma's tenure as BJP state president is ending in December this year, but the party is looking at holding the elections for the position before that.
Devinder Kumar Manyal
Dr Devinder Kumar Manyal was born on 21 April, 1969, in Samba. He studied medicine and has an MBBS degree. He was elected from Samba in 2014. The BJP inducted Manyal, representing the Scheduled Caste community in the Council of Ministers.
The Scroll report added that Manyal will serve as a replacement for Chander Prakash Ganga, who stepped down in April over his participation in the rally in defence of the Kathua accused.
Sunil Sharma and Shakti Raj Parihar
Sunil Kumar Sharma was elevated from minister of state to a Cabinet rank. He is a graduate. Sharma worked as secretary in the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarathi Parishad (ABVP) in Kishtwar from 1994 to 1999.
He unsuccessfully contested the state Assembly elections in 2008. In 2014, however, he was elected from Kishtwar and inducted in the Council of Ministers as Minister of State for Public Works Department (PWD) and revenue.
Doda MLA Shakti Raj Parihar worked in a French multinational firm before starting his own business. He joined the BJP in 2008 and contested Assembly elections unsuccessfully from Inderwal. In 2014, he was elected from Doda.
The BJP elevated Sharma and inducted Parihar to give representation to the Chenab Valley region, where the party had gained votes and trounced National Conference and Congress in the 2014 Assembly elections.
The BJP romped home in view of the polarisation after the disruption of an Eid procession in Kishtwar in 2013, where Hindus and Muslims clashed with each other and the communal frenzy led to the killing of three people. The Kishtwar MLA was accused of stoking the unrest in the region.
According to Scroll, Sharma and Parihar were photographed in March 2016 with BJP leader Hari Krishan — wanted for the murder of a Muslim man during the communal violence on Eid in 2013. Krishan has been declared an absconder by a court of law. The photograph was taken at a meeting at the residence of Union minister of state and Udhampur MP Jitendra Singh.
A report in The Indian Express had quoted Singh as saying that Krishan was part of a delegation led by Sharma. The report also mentioned that Krishan had campaigned for Sharma. It further added that in May 2015, Sharma was spotted watching a cricket match in Kishtwar town with Roshan Lal, who is accused of burning a Muslim man alive.
Mohd Khalil Band and Mohd Ashraf Mir
Born on 1 February, 1969, in Srinagar, Mohammad Ashraf Mir is an MBA who joined active politics in 2008 under the banner of PDP and contested the 2008 Assembly elections unsuccessfully. He remained a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council from April 2011 to December 2014. In 2014, he was elected an MLA.
Band has been associated with the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference from 1967 till May 2002. He joined PDP in June 2002. He is an MLA from Pulwama.
Mir's inclusion in the Cabinet is seen as an attempt by Mehbooba Mufti to check the dissensions within her own party. Mir was dropped by the chief minister though he had defeated Omar Abdullah from Sonwar in the last Assembly elections and was a minister of state (MoS) in former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's council of ministers.
The PDP also inducted Pulwama MLA Mohammad Khalil Band as a minister to gain a foothold in the southern part of Kashmir, where people are disrupting the anti-militancy operations by taking part in stone pelting during encounters.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: May 01, 2018 13:27:00 IST