As the Jammu-Kashmir political scene is in turmoil following the Kathua rape and murder, the PDP-BJP coalition has reshuffled the state's cabinet. Six members from the BJP and two from PDP have been sworn in as new minisers.
The major change was that of Dr Nirmal Singh, former deputy chief minister who was removed and replaced by Speaker Kavinder Gulpta. In converse, Nirmal was made speaker. The MLA's from from Doda , Samba and Kathua from Jammu, the stronghold of BJP, have been accommodated in the ministry with cabinet rank. BJP has replaced, in addition to deputy chief minister, its health minister and another deputy chief minister. When in the wake of Kathua incident, and the investigation by Crime Branch, a demonstration was held by Hindu Ekta Manch against it in which BJP's ministers Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chandar Prakash Ganga had participated, this invited country wide outrage. To mollify such protests, BJP was forced to ask for their resignation. It was in connection with this, that in the name of unsatisfactory performance, the PDP-BJP coalition decided to have a cabinet reshuffle. The finance portfolio, which was in the hands of BJP, is still lying vacant.
The ruling coalition and BJP leadership have been at pains to explain the changes as a step for improving the performance of the two-year old coalition government of Mehbooba Mufti. The ruling parties have ben trying to explain that not only did they try to find replacements for the ministers who had to quit their posts following the Kathua incident, they also removed those at whom fingers have been pointed because of corruption allegations and poor performance, to pave way for people with efficiency. However, neither the Opposition, nor the people in the state are prepared to accept this. There may be merit in the statement by BJP's national leadership including General Secretary Ram Madhav that the cabinet reshuffle had no connection with the Kathua incident. True, BJP was forced to remove the two ministers who came out in public as if to justify the culprits in the Kathua incident. But the party is far from having any regret that the incident caused any loss of face. Not only that, they still are under the hope that they can use their role and stance in the incident for further communal polarization in future.
BJP has also taken care to give hints of its intention in the cabinet reshuffle. Rajiv Jasrotia, who found a place in the new cabinet, is one who had participated in the controversial protest rally. Given that in the two places vacated by ministers removed for the reason of staging protest against the government's invesgitation agency, have been filled by two who are complicit in the same guilt, it implies that BJP has decided not to pay heed to the popular rage in the matter. It may be recalled that soon after taking office, the new deputy chief minister termed the Kathua tragedy as a 'minor incident'. And chief minister Mehbooba, riding on the ministerial chariot at the mercy of BJP, is evidently with hands tied in all this. As the picture of cabinet reshuffle is getting clearer, the confusion of the government's stance regarding the Kathua incident is getting deeper. Even as the chief minister condemns the Kathua tragedy personally and on behalf of the party, she is in a helpless situation of having no way than to accommodate any culprit brought in by the BJP.
And as for the BJP, it is moving forward with the motto of sharpening the communal divide in the state's politics. Kavinder Gupta, newly sworn in as deputy chief minister as replacement, fits the bill perfectly as an old guard leader of RSS. When there was an attack against the military camp in Sunjuwan, his discovery was that it was the Rohingyan Muslim refugees that were behind it. As per his theory when Muslim suspects are involved, any serious accusation can be charged on them, even when there is no evidence. His party too calculates that if anything can intensify communal polarization, that will also be a gain. The coalition government under Mehbooba Mufti, throuigh its anti-people policies, is getting more and more alienated by the day from the people. The very party of PDP is in a state of losing its foothold in the state. But the BJP uses its role as partner, derived in the penumbra of power at the Centre, as an opportunity to plough the field for its hate-mongering and communal politics - and not without success in that. The recent cabinet reshuffle is a glaring example of the fact that they pass up no opportunity for it either.