Jammu and Kashmir Assembly speaker Kavinder Gupta, state BJP chief Sat Paul Sharma and six others were today sworn in as ministers in the state's PDP-BJP government led by Mehbooba Mufti.
The major shake-up of the council of ministers -- including six of the BJP and two of the PDP -- follows BJP ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga resigning 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.
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.
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 Mehbooba 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 and Sharma, the new BJP faces sworn in as ministers were the MLAs from Kathua and adjoining Sambha, Rajiv Jasrotia and Devinder Kumar Manyal, respectively. The BJP also upgraded Sunil Sharma, at present minister of state for transport, to the rank of a cabinet minister. BJP legislator Shakti Raj took oath as a minister of state.
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. Seven of the eight are cabinet ministers.
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 Shakti Raj took their oath of office.
The BJP has dropped Nirmal Singh, who is likely to be the new speaker, Health Minister Bali Bhagat and minister of state Priya Sethi, the lone woman who was removed, officials said.
The saffron party had on April 17 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.
According to Madhav, the new team led by Gupta would serve the state and the people.
"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 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 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.
Born in 1961 and a chartered accountant by profession, he belongs to a family with roots in the RSS.
Both Gupta and Sat Paul Sharma were jailed during Emergency.
The oath of office and secrecy was administered by the governor at the convention centre instead of the Raj Bhavan as the state government has already shifted its base to summer capital Srinagar, part of the bi-annual darbar move under which the government functions for six months in Jammu and six months in Srinagar.
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