Has cabinet reshuffle eased or enhanced Omar’s woes? (Kashmir Newsletter)

Srinagar/Jammu, Jan 24: The Jammu and Kashmir cabinet met in winter capital Jammu earlier this week for the first time after it was reshuffled by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to improve the ruling coalition’s electoral fortunes in the 2014 assembly polls. However, the moot question remains whether the reshuffle has eased or added to the coalition’s problems.

Chances are it’s had a negative impact.

Most people here hold that Abdullah walked the tightrope when he shuffled the cabinet last week, dropping some close confidantes so that they could work for the National Conference (NC) to gear up for the elections. It is widely believed that the chief minister had initially decided to even drop two senior NC leaders, but the last minute intervention of his father, NC patron and union minister Farooq Abdullah prevented this.

Ten new faces were inducted while seven ministers were dropped in the reshuffle.

“Abdullah’s role in allotting portfolios or dropping/inducting Congress leaders into the cabinet has been limited as it was the state Congress which took the final call on inclusion/ deletion of its leaders after consulting the party high command,” a senior Congress leader who did not want to be named, told IANS.

“But Abdullah definitely took the final call on dropping or including some from among the NC during the reshuffle”, said

Abdullah dropped his close friends, junior home minister Nasir Aslam Wani and political advisor Devender Singh Rana, who have been made the provincial presidents of the Kashmir and Jammu divisions.

Although they were installed amid fanfare with Abdullah personally greeting them in their new avatars, many here argue the move might not improve the electoral fortunes of the NC.

Discontent is brewing in many constituencies of the state where NC’s rank and file are reportedly angered because of non-representation.

S.S Slathia, a senior NC minister, was dropped and made a vice president. But, sources close to him reveal he has not taken kindly to his ouster from the cabinet.

The NC party unit in Kargil district of Ladakh region has reportedly threatened mass resignations after Qamar Ali Akhoon, the consumer affairs and public distribution minister was dropped from the cabinet and assigned party responsibilities.

NC village council members in Poonch district of Jammu region are also claiming a raw deal as no legislator from there has found a ministerial berth during the reshuffle.

In contrast to this, Abdullah inducted NC legislators from Handwara and Kupwara constituencies, supposedlt to dent the electoral prospects of Sajad Lone, the People’s Conference leader who belongs to Kupwara district.

Lone, the son of senior slain separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone, tried his electoral fortunes from north Kashmir’s Baramulla parliamentary seat in 2009 but lost to his NC rival. He has now decided to field candidates for the state assembly for 2014 elections, party sources here said.

The Congress dropped its minister R.S. Chib, but party sources said this had more to do with his term in the legislative council ending in March rather than his performance as a minister.

In sum, the reshuffle could have added to Abdullah’s problems given the fact that most of the former ministers assigned party work have started expressing resentment against their ouster from the cabinet.

As for the cabinet meeting, little was achieved during the 30 minutes it lasted. It approved the promotion of a senior IAS officer to financial commissioner, besides effecting a few other postings in the administration. A decision on incorporating parts of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment into the state panchayati raj law to further empower the village council members was, however, deferred.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

IANS