By Sheikh Qayoom
PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir , heading a coalition that brought the BJP to power for the first time in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and party leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi witnessed the ceremony, more than two months after elections produced a hung verdict giving the PDP and the BJP 28 and 25 seats respectively.
After taking oath, Sayeed, 79, warmly hugged Modi and sat close to him, witnessing the entire ceremony held on a flower-decked stage at the Jammu University’s General Zorawar Singh auditorium.
Son of a religious preacher from the Kashmir Valley, Sayeed will head the government of his Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and will be the chief minister for all of six years.
Senior BJP leader Nirmal Singh was sworn in as the deputy chief minister.
Former separatist leader Sajad Gani Lone took oath as a BJP ally, and then warmly hugged both Modi and Sayeed, triggering thunderous applause.
His inclusion in the cabinet followed a last-minute hitch, a BJP source told IANS, without giving details.
Inclusive of the chief minister, the PDP will have 11 cabinet berths and the BJP six, including Lone. The PDP and BJP have three and five junior ministers respectively.
Two women were named junior ministers: Priya Sethi (BJP) and Asiya Naqash (PDP).
The PDP cabinet ministers are Abdul Rehman Bhat Veeri, Javaid Mustafa Mir, Abdul Haq Khan, Syed Basharat Bukhari, Chowdhary Zulfiqar Ali, Haseeb Drabu, Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura, Altaf Bukhari, Imran Raza Ansari and Naeem Akhtar.
The BJP’s cabinet ministers are Nirmal Singh (deputy chief minister), Chander Prakash, Choudhary Lal Singh, Bali Baghat, Sukhnandan Kumar and Sajad Gani Lone (Peoples Conference).
The BJP’s junior ministers are Chering Dorjay, Sunil Kumar Sharma, Abdul Ghani Kohli, Priya Sethi and Pawan Gupta. The PDP’s junior ministers are Abdul Majeed Paddar, Muhammad Ashraf Mir and Asiya Naqash.
While Sayeed took oath in English, his party colleagues took oath in Urdu or English. The BJP ministers took oath in English and Hindu except Choudhary Lal Singh who went for Dogri.
This is the second time Sayeed will head a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. He took power in 2002, heading a PDP-Congress alliance, for a three-year term.
The Kashmir verdict brought about a clear divide between the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, with the PDP winning almost all its seats in the valley and the BJP sweeping Jammu.
Even as it became clear that the BJP and the PDP would have to team up to form a government, their negotiations became protracted because of the two parties’ known differences over some vital issues.
This is the first time the BJP is tasting power in Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state where a separatist campaign which has raged since 1989 has left thousands dead.