A reshuffle of the Jammu & Kashmir cabinet was on the cards for months, with the People’s Democratic Party and the BJP, the two partners in the ruling coalition, keen to induct new faces. But clearly, the matter was precipitated by the resignations of Chowdhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, after national outrage over their participation in a rally organised by the openly communal Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) condemning the J&K police investigation and arrests in the Kathua rape case. The BJP had asked the two to step down. Ram Madhav, the BJP pointman for J&K, had said at the time that the ministers had committed an “indiscretion” by attending the rally, and that by getting them to resign, the party “has done our bit to address or allay fears and misconceptions in the minds of the people not only in Jammu or Kashmir but also the entire country”. So then, what to make of the inclusion of the Kathua MLA Rajiv Jasrotia, who was also present at the same rally, though he did not have a speaking part in it?
The most generous explanation is that as the elected representative of the area, he had to be present when two senior party men, both ministers, visited his constituency. But it does give room for the fears that Madhav spoke about two weeks ago in Jammu, especially when read together with other signals emerging from the reshuffle. Nirmal Singh, who had refused to be drawn into the clamour for handing over the rape-murder investigation to the CBI, has been dropped from the cabinet and is the next Speaker. He has traded places with Kavinder Gupta, whose first remarks after being sworn in were that the Kathua rape was a “small incident” that had been “hyped” up by the media. Though he later claimed the statement had been misinterpreted, it appears the BJP does not want to be seen as acknowledging that some of its members actively, and unacceptably, polarised a gruesome crime along religious lines.
Nor does it want to be seen as “surrendering” to the PDP: Madhav stressed after the reshuffle that there was no question of “surrender”. Such talk can only serve to polarise people more, and perhaps that is the idea. But it sits ill with two parties that are coalition partners who have a mutually agreed Agenda for Alliance. The cabinet reshuffle indicates that despite their ideological mismatch, the PDP and BJP have decided they will complete the remaining three years of this government’s term. But unless they stop conducting themselves like the adversaries they clearly are, they are not going to be able to govern the state together, nor use the time they have left to fulfill any of the promises they have made to the people of J&K.