Speaker, BJP State Chief among eight sworn in as ministers

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“Major reshuffle of council Shadow Correspondent
JAMMU, APR 30:
The much-awaited cabinet reshuffle in the Mehbooba Mufti government in Jammu and Kashmir took place on Monday with seven new faces sworn in, including Assembly Speaker Kavinder Gupta who will be the next deputy chief minister in the PDP-BJP dispensation.
The major shake-up of the council of ministers — six from the BJP and two from the PDP — comes after BJP ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga resigned from the cabinet earlier this month after they were criticised for taking part in a rally in support of those accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua.
Both the parties sought to downplay that the Kathua incident had anything to do with today’s cabinet reshuffle, especially after reporters started questioning the decision of including Kathua MLA Rajiv Jasrotia, who was part of the rally for which Singh and Ganga had to resign.
Forty-five-year-old Jasrotia, who was appointed as a cabinet minister, evaded questions by reporters after the swearing-in ceremony about his participation in the rally held by Singh and Ganga in his constituency.
Gupta, described as an old RSS hand, will be the new deputy chief minister in place of Nirmal Singh, who submitted his resignation last night, officials said.
He termed the Kathua incident as one of the challenges faced by the state government and said the reshuffle will ensure that such incidents do not happen in future. “We have priorities for the all round development of Jammu, Kahsmir and Ladakh,” Gupta said.
Chief Spokesman of the Government and PDP minister Nayeem Akthar also made it clear that the present reshuffle had nothing to do with the Kathua case and it was an attempt by both parties to ensure that others are given a chance.
He also expressed ignorance about the presence of Jasrotia at the rally, whereas television channels were flashing pictures of him there.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, who attended the swearing-in ceremony, said today’s changes had no connection with the Kathua case.
“Our government has completed three years in power so we decided to have a reshuffle in the cabinet and give an opportunity to new faces,” Madhav told reporters.
Chief Minister Mufti congratulated the newly-inducted ministers, who were administered the oath of office and secrecy by Governor N N Vohra at the Convention Centre here today.
Besides Gupta, BJP state president Sat Paul Sharma, MLAs from Sambha and Doda Devinder Kumar Manyal and Shakti Raj were inducted in the cabinet. The BJP also upgraded Sunil Sharma, at present minister of state for transport, to the rank of a cabinet minister.
From the PDP, Pulwama MLA Mohammed Khalil Band and Sonawar MLA Mohammed Ashraf Mir took oath as ministers. Of the eight, seven are first time ministers.
Barring Raj, all the others will be cabinet ministers in the PDP-BJP government.
While Gupta, Sat Paul Sharma and Sunil Sharma took the oath in Hindi, Mir, Jasrotia, Manyal and Shakti Raj took the oath in English. Band took his oath in Urdu.
Slogans of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” were heard from the audience as Sat Paul Sharma and Raj took their oath of office.
The BJP has dropped Nirmal Singh, who is likely to be the new speaker,
Speaker, BJP State…
Health Minister Bali Bhagat and minister of state Priya Sethi, officials said. Sethi was the lone woman to be removed.
The saffron party had on April 17 had asked all its nine ministers in the PDP-BJP government in the state to submit their resignations so new faces could be brought in.
The party, however, had not forwarded the resignations to the governor.
The state can have a maximum of 25 ministers, including the chief minister. Of these, 14 portfolios are with the PDP and the remaining with the BJP.
The new team led by Gupta would serve the state and the people, according to Madhav.
“The party has given me the task. I will work with dedication for the people and the state and ensure that the demands and aspirations of the people are fulfilled,” Gupta told reporters.
Gupta, 59, who joined the RSS when he was 13 served as mayor of Jammu for three consecutive terms from 2005 to 2010. He was elected as an MLA for the first time in 2014 from Gandhi Nagar constituency and was unanimously elected as speaker of the assembly. “I will work for the people and the state and will fulfil the demands and their aspirations. Apart from the party, I have been given a task as a minister. I will meet the expectations of the party,” Sat Paul Sharma said.
Sharma also evaded questions on the presence of Jasrotia at the Kathua rally as well as claims by Lal Singh that he particpated in the rally on directions of the state BJP chief.
In the meantime, Lal Singh continued to hold rallies in Kathua demanding a CBI probe into the rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl.
“I have nothing to do with the cabinet expansion or anything else. My fight is for a CBI probe,” Lal Singh said.
o”Major reshuffle of council of ministers”f ministers”

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