Faction Hits J&K BJP

Removal of Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh and two other ministers has blown the lid off the simmering discontent within the BJP’s top echelons in the state

By Anil Anand

The much awaited reshuffle of the BJP-PDP government finally took place after lot of hype, hoopla, hyperbole, suspense and drama with alliance partners particularly BJP holding a promise to redeem the failed promises in its core constituency Jammu region. The reshuffle has been on the cards for the past over six months particularly after the unceremonious exit of one of the architects of this alliance and PDP’s Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu. What hastened the process was the gory Kathua rape cum murder case which unfortunately got seethed in vortex of communal and regional politics.

The army of BJP leaders and spokespersons are vainly trying to convince the nation that the cabinet reshuffle should be seen as detached from the Kathua case. Definitely, as stated above, the reshuffle was in the pipeline much before the crime took place but it finally happened three months after the case had been investigated by the state police (Crime Branch) and the charge-sheet filed. It happened in the midst of sudden clamour for CBI probe into the case and just before two BJP ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga were forced to resign for attending a rally meant to support the accused. 

Under the circumstances it would be naive to say that the Kathua case had no bearing on the reshuffle. The more BJP’s managers lay thrust on their self-perceived theory, the more they would be exposing themselves to public ridicule. Must they realize that naivety is solely the domain of those, particularly in a democratic polity, who take people far-granted. 

The reshuffle has raised many more questions than the record it was expected by the BJP to be set straight. The removal of incumbents including Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh and before that seeking resignations of Lal Singh and Ganga are all pointers to the fact that the reshuffle which ought to have happened in natural course was ultimately necessitated by the Kathua episode.

The fact of the matter is the reshuffle has also blown the lid off the simmering discontent within the BJP’s top echelons in the state. Under the guise of Kathua, which incidentally is an important segment of Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Dr Jitender Singh’s Lok Sabha constituency, a war of supremacy has come in the open between him and the outgoing deputy chief minister.

The removal of Dr Nirmal Singh, whose Assembly constituency is part of this Lok Sabha constituency as well, indicates at attempts to clip his wings. It is also a fact that Dr Jitendra Singh’s supporters have bagged a lion’s share of cabinet berths.

Dr Nirmal Singh was facing public criticism in Jammu region, the bastion of BJP, for kowtowing Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s line in endorsing a Crime Branch probe into the rape cum murder case. The fact of the matter is that he was not alone in doing so and he could not have done it on his own since both the BJP’s central leadership and the Prime Minister’s Office monitor Jammu and Kashmir related developments from very close quarters.

Every single decision in the context of BJP-PDP ruling coalition is taken by Delhi through their points-man Ram Madhav. The state leaders of the BJP only dutifully implement their orders.

What difference has the replacement of Dr Nirmal Singh by Speaker Kavinder Gupta, made to the overall situation? None! It is ironic that the former was believed to have been divested of his Deputy Chief Ministership as punishment for not taking a tough line on Kathua or for his stated poor track record as a Minister, has in fact been rewarded with the Speaker’s coveted which though is administratively less important.

Kavinder, known to be much milder than even Dr Nirmal Singh, has bared his thoughts sooner than expected on Kathua episode which are no different from what the latter had stated on earlier occasions. New Deputy Chief Minister’s reaction immediately after taking oath that Kathua rape cum murder is a “small incident” and that it should not be hyped, explains the obvious. In all probability he would be no different than his predecessor in dealing with coalition partner unless the BJP high command looked differently to coalition partner PDP which seems remote at this juncture.

Yet another paradox in the way of BJP leadership portraying the major cabinet reshuffle as a whiff of fresh air in the face of Kathua developments is induction of area MLA Rajiv Jasrotia as one of the Ministers. Lal Singh and Ganga were sacked for participating in a rally allegedly to favour the accused. Ever since his sacking the maverick Lal Singh is on the roads criticising chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, her government and even his own party BJP’s leadership without inviting any disciplinary action. It reflects that his actions also have tacit support of some senior BJP leaders. 

Critics say that Jasrotia not only actively took part in the rally but closely oversaw events in the aftermath of the crime and was even questioned in connection with the case.

How could Jasrotia as a replacement be justified? But it also happens that he is a camp follower of Dr Jitendra Singh which cannot be a mere coincidence for his becoming a minister.

His induction as a Minister comes at a difficult time for the BJP and is a clear contradiction to what the party stands and what Jasrotia, Lal Singh and Ganga, of course at the behest of the party, publically stood for. They all agitated demanding CBI probe into the case against their own government’s move to have already handed over the case to the Crime Branch. It is another matter that the demand came when the state police had already completed the investigation and charge sheet filed before the court.

Under these circumstances the cabinet reshuffle is nothing but an attempt to hoodwink the people. It is an attempt in futility as the exercise has achieved nothing except further adding to the confusion.

The cabinet reshuffle should be followed by reassessment of BJP-PDP coalition government’s functioning particularly in view of strong feeling of regional discrimination which is rampant in Jammu and Ladakh regions. Any attempt at further communalising the situation to hide either the government’s or the coalition partners failures, will only add to the futility of this exercise.

It is still not clear whether BJP backs demand for CBI probe into the case or is satisfied with the Crime Branch investigations. There limited support to the demand for CBI probe is barely on the premise that people demand it and not that the BJP per se wants it.

No one could have stopped the BJP, which rules both at the Centre and in the state, to handover the case to the CBI. Ironic it may look but it is also a fact that the CBI is under the direct charge of Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Dr Jitender Singh, who also holds the portfolio of Ministry of personnel. It happens so because Kathua is a key segment of his Lok Sabha constituency.