Cabinet Expansion Imminent As Cong, PDP Settle Matters
19 July 2007
The Daily Excelsior
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Srinagar: With a minor reshuffle in portfolios of some Ministers and induction of four new faces, an expansion in Ghulam Nabi Azad's 21-member Council of Ministers appears to be imminent as the key coalition partners, Congress and PDP, are understood to have settled many matters of dispute within. If everything went smooth as in last three days, eight new faces from the two partners, including a female advocate from north Kashmir, are also likely to be appointed as heads of different corporations and autonomous bodies. Highly placed political sources insist that Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was likely to go for an expansion of his Council of Ministers, including reshuffle of certain portfolios, later this fortnight. With three berths of the Congress quota remaining vacant for the last 21 months against one for PDP, that had fallen vacant in the wake of Muzaffar Hussain Baig's eventful resignation last year, Azad is said to have delayed the reshuffle-cum-expansion for 'internal as well as external' factors. Sources said that the election for the post of Chairman Legislative Council- taking place at the moment of Congress needing more and more votes for its Presidential candidate, Pratibha Patil-has led to resolution of key disputes between the coalition partners in the last one week. Chief Minister Azad did not hide his jubilation around the timing of filing of nomination papers for the top position of Chairman Legislative Council by PDP's Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura today. Two of the Congress MLCs, namely Ashok Sharma and Ali Mohammad Sofi, were directed to jointly propose and second Hanjura's nomination so as to project him as the 'coalition candidate'. Congress, which has a clear majority of 16 in the 31-member electoral college, had earlier indicated to field its own candidate with two indoor arguments: That Congress-PDP alliance was not a pre-election arrangement in 2002, and, both the parties had contested more than one elections in the last four years against each other's candidates. According to sources, entire dispute was resolved when PDP not only proactively support the Congress party's Presidential candidate but also maintained remarkable silence with regard to its ticklish demand of demilitarisation. Prime Minister Manmohan Sing's extraordinary treatment to the National Conference patron Dr Farooq Abdullah during his visit to Jammu earlier this week is said to be one among many factors that have softened PDP to reconciliation with Azad. Taking a quick notice of Hanjura being acclaimed as the coalition's joint candidate, National Conference flashed a directive to its MLC Sakeena Itoo this afternoon to immediately file her nomination for the election of Chairman LC. Party sources said that until the party president Omar Abdullah's departure for New Delhi today, NC had not decided to field its candidate. MLCs Abdur Rasheed Qureshi and Trilochan Singh Wazir proposed their party colleague Sakeena's nomination. With little scope of cross-voting in tomorrow's election of voice vote, Sakeena's contest will be NC's symbolic fight to the coalition candidate. With 16 MLCs belonging to Congress and 9 to PDP, Hanjura's victory is a foregone conclusion as NC has only 5 MLCs in the 31-member electoral college. Panthers Party's Prof Bhim Singh, who has withdrawn support to the coalition Government last month, may not participate in the voting on Friday. Congress, in turn, decided to forego its claim on the post of Chairman LC. Sources said that, today itself, Chief Minister issued instructions to repeat the name of PDP leader, Rafi Ahmed Mir, to the Governor for his nomination against a vacant seat in Upper House. Governor had earlier rejected Mir's nomination with the averment that he was lacking the intellectual profile required for this particular position. For the last over one month, Chief Minister had neither repeated Mir's nomination to Raj Bhawan nor responded to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's and Mehbooba Mufti's explicit pressure demanding repetition of the nomination. Some of the political circles believe that Azad has arranged a quid pro quo, making PDP leave its one-odd Ministerial vacancy for the big brother. Most significantly, for Azad's pleasure and comfort, senior PDP Ministers, Tariq Hameed Qarra and Abdul Aziz Zargar, are likely to swap portfolios. Since Muzaffar Hussain Baig's forced resignation last year, Azad has not been visibly comfortable with the 'assertive and aggressive' Qarra, who has been holding the key portfolios of Planning and Finance, besides Law and Parliamentary Affairs. Nevertheless, there appears to be no prospect of Baig's or his one-time bete noire Ghulam Hassan Mir's return to the Cabinet. On the other hand, there is a strong possibility of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed recommending his confidante Pir Mohammad Hussain, MoS Power and Health, for elevation to the Cabinet. PDP sources, however, insist that one among Sartaj Madni and Abdur Rehman Veeri was likely to be inducted as MoS in the next expansion. While Mufti's brother-in-law and MLA Qazigund, Sartaj Madni is a green hand, Veeri has earlier functioned as MoS Home with Mufti as Chief Minister for three years. Among the 13 Cabinet Ministers, including Chief Minister, 8 are presently from Congress and 4 from PDP. Independent MLA from Khansahib and PDF Chairman, Hakeem Mohammad Yasin, has been the one odd Cabinet Minister from other coalition allies since last year's reshuffle. Among the 8 MoSs, 5 belong to Congress (including its associate members) and 3 to PDP. Immediately after his assuming power in November 2005, Azad had managed a legislation, restricting the maximum size of the Council of Ministers to 25. With about eight contenders, Azad had left three of the Congress quota berths vacant. Later, PDP's berth got vacant with Baig's resignation. Though the exercise of shortlisting the Congress nominees is understood to be still underway, sources believe that Raman Bhalla and Kanta Andhotra from Jammu as also Abdul Gani Vakil from the Valley were the top probables. Possibility of Haji Abdur Rasheed and Ghulam Mohammad Saroori being shifted from Chairmanship of their Corporations to the second rung of the Council of Ministers is also not ruled out. Heading J&K Handicrafts (Sales & Exports) Corporation and Social Welfare Board respectively, Haji and Saroori are currently holding the status of MoS. Sources revealed that eight of the Congress and PDP leaders were likely to be appointed as Chairpersons of different Corporations and autonomous bodies. While Congress is likely to accommodate four of its failed aspirants in the PSUs, MLA Shopian Ghulam Hassan Khan, MLC Nizamuddin Bhat and non-legislator from Kupwara Abdul Haq Vakil are said to be PDP's top probables for the Corporations and Boards. In PDP quota, a female advocate from north Kashmir is likely to be appointed as Chairperson of J&K State Women Development Corporation.