Negotiations over cabinet portfolios are stalling the swearing-in of the new Jammu and Kashmir government as the BJP insists on equal representation in important ministries, many of which are held by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The national party feels that it is now in a strong place to bargain from given the Modi government’s ‘strong’ posturing on not ‘succumbing’ to the demands of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, who will be the new chief minister.
“The swearing-in will not happen this month for sure. Some important portfolios are to be discussed with possible re-shaping of the allocation of portfolios,” said a senior BJP leader on the condition of anonymity.
The state has been under Governor’s rule since January 8 following the death of chief minister and PDP founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. During his 10-month tenure, the ruling PDP had 10 cabinet ministers while its coalition partner, the BJP, had eight. The BJP in fact had only six ministers initially, but managed to get two Ministers of State elevated to cabinet ministers.
In its present negotiations, the BJP is demanding an extra cabinet berth to be on a par with the PDP which has the chief ministerial chair.
Party sources say the BJP is also insisting on having the Minister of State portfolio in the planning department and the home ministry. As the PDP is unlikely to give up the home ministry, the BJP is instead pressuring for the MoS portfolio.
“In the coalition government, the formula for allocation of portfolio is if the senior minister is of PDP then junior minister should be of BJP and vice-versa,” said another BJP leader, who was a cabinet minister in the last government.
Following the death of Sayeed, the PDP’s MLA count is down to 27 from 28 in the 87-member assembly house. The BJP has 28 MLAs, including two from Sajjad Lone’s Peoples Conference and one independent candidate.
“During Mufti Sayeed’s time, the impression had gone down that BJP had succumbed to pressure despite having equal numbers. With urban local bodies and Panchayat elections round the corner, we don’t want repeat of it again,” said a senior BJP leader. At the time, local media criticised the BJP for giving the ‘lion’s’ share to the PDP.
The BJP is also facing strong criticism from the Congress, which also has a large support base in the Jammu region. In the Omar Abdullah-headed government, the Congress had an equal share in the cabinet with just 17 MLAs while the ruling National Conference had 28.