J&K Speaker among eight sworn in as ministers

J&K Speaker among eight sworn in as ministers

Jammu and Kashmir Assembly speaker Kavinder Gupta, state BJP president Sat Sharma and six other MLAs were on Monday sworn in as ministers in the state's PDP-BJP government led by Mehbooba Mufti.

While Gupta will be the new deputy chief minister in the place of Nirmal Singh, who submitted his resignation on Sunday night, the portfolios of the other ministers were not declared till evening.

Besides Gupta and Sharma, the new BJP faces sworn in as ministers include Rajiv Jasrotia Devinder Kumar Manyal and Shakti Raj, while the new PDP members included in the cabinet are Mohammad Khalil Band and Mohammad Ashraf Mir.

The BJP also upgraded Sunil Sharma, at present the minister of state for transport, to the rank of a cabinet minister.

The major reshuffle of the council of ministers follows BJP ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga resigning from the cabinet earlier this month after they attended a rally in support of those accused in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua.

Besides Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, the oath ceremony was attended by BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh.

Talking to reporters, Madhav said Monday's reshuffle had no connection with the Kathua rape and murder 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," he said.

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.

Immediately after being sworn in as deputy chief minister, Gupta made highly controversial statement, saying the brutal Kathua rape and murder was a "small incident".

However, he later retracted the statement claiming that his remarks were "misconstrued" and blamed the media for reporting his statements in the "wrong way".

59-year-old Gupta, who joined the RSS when he was 13, has served as the mayor of Jammu for three consecutive terms from 2005 to 2010.

He was elected as an MLA for the first time in 2014 from the Gandhi Nagar constituency and was unanimously elected as speaker of the Assembly in March 2015.

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