Changing Faces

Reports of an impending cabinet reshuffle continue to gain momentum. Kashmir Life examines who the problems and the possibilities are—for the ruling party’s future.

The option of Congress leading the coalition for the second half of the six year term starting January is ruled out. However, possibilities of a reshuffle in the council of ministers might become a quid pro quo to silence the restive Congressmen seeking rotation of the leadership. But the interesting part of the story is a reluctant Omar may exercise the option—only if the Congress high command seeks it.

Rumored to take place in the last week of January, the possible cabinet reshuffle is the soul of the political grapevine in the civil secretariat. It has created a situation that almost everyone is gunning for everyone. Almost everyone—from a peon to a bureaucrat—has his own list of the “new faces” and they are willing to share; as long as they stay off the record.

But expectations are growing. “If at all the chief minister wants a reshuffle, it has to be a credible and serious exercise and not just cosmetics,” a senior NC lawmaker told Kashmir Life.

Right now, there are three positions vacant in the council of ministers. Apparently, one goes to the NC, and two others to Congress, where they could be shared equally by two factions led by Ghulam Nabi Azad and Prof Saif ud Din Soz.

In case the chief minister opts for an expansion as well as reshuffle, there is a possibility of new faces from the two parties, and one of their small allies getting in. Though it is father and son dominating the National Conference’s decision making process, there is a genuine desperation to spare some faces from the government to get into the party. Their experimentation with Dr Mustafa Kamal, Dr Abdullah’s brother, failed to create a situation and he was disgracefully removed as the party spokesman and the additional secretary general. That was done as Sheikh Nazir, the party’s erstwhile powerful secretary general is ailing. The reshuffle may help them get two senior faces from the government to the party, and assign them to revive the party.

However, apparently no one knows the criterion that might be adopted for inducting or replacing faces. Corruption is gradually becoming a major issue in Omar’s government and it involves both the parties – the Congress and the NC.  Unlike NC, allegations of corruption against Congress ministers are open and somehow mapped. While one is facing a case in the high court, another is trapped in a land grabbing controversy that has police records substantiating some of the allegations.

“If you tell me how many ministers are in the eye of the storm within the party, one can safely say there are five, including three from Kashmir and two from Jammu,” one NC lawmaker said, informing one of them is currently setting up a 50-room hotel. “In fact in one of the cases the chief minister has made certain fundamental enquiries, discreetly.” As for Congress, the lawmaker said, they are three – two from Jammu and one from Kashmir.

“It includes a minister who is very close to the chief minister even at the cost of his party.” Interestingly, one of the Congress ministers having apparently no corruption case against him is accused of patronizing two officers who are accused in a series of cases of corruption and misuse of public funds. In one case, the minister had written to the state vigilance organization seeking his acquittal! The minister ensured the corruption cases against them would not be an obstacle. Eventually, one of the officers retired last week. Days before his retirement, the officers had diverted Rs 20 crores to his district under a particular scheme. Now he is joining Congress.

 The interesting twist is that among the smaller allies, Omar may have to drop Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir and take Hakim Yasin instead. Mir and Hakeem have assumed some sort of ‘king-makership” role since 2002 given their “influences” in Delhi. “We are told that there has been an agreement that they will share the ministerial berth for half time each,” an officer very close to the corridors of power in Jammu said.

Congress has decided to reshuffle some faces, even if NC doesn’t take a similar decision. A reshuffle or an expansion will definitely open a pandora’s box in the coalition government. Omar is apparently comfortable with all the characters that he is leading. Having a new team would require creating new equations. But would he choose a new team for the next half of his term? That is anyone’s guess.

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