The induction of two legislators from Srinagar and Pulwama into the J&K Cabinet is being viewed within PDP circles as a way to strengthen the party’s fast eroding base in the two districts. Pulwama was earlier considered the stronghold of the PDP. After former finance minister Haseeb Drabu was forced to resign, the area was left without any representation in the Cabinet. Three-time legislator Mohammad Khalil Bandh’s addition during Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle took many by surprise but party leaders maintain it will strengthen PDP in Pulawama. The party has been at the receiving end in the district since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016. The number of youths who joined militant ranks from this district has also been growing.
“Khalil was inducted in the cabinet as the Pulwama has been base for the PDP. He is not only a three-time assembly member but an old hand in politics. He can always prove beneficial in tough situations and the district is passing through tough phase…” said a senior PDP leader from South Kashmir. He said that since Pulwama district was unrepresented after Drabu’s resignation it was important to fill this vacuum.
Another PDP legislator who made it to the Cabinet is Ashraf Mir, a former minister and legislator from Sonwar in Srinagar district. Mir in 2014 defeated former J-K chief minister Omar Abdullah. However, he was dropped from the ministry after Mehbooba Mufti took oath as chief minister. Mir’s inclusion is seen as a representation for Srinagar district where the party had managed to bag five assembly seats in 2014 elections. By Mir’s inclusion, the PDP is aiming to give a tough time to the National Conference. Last year, the PDP lost Srinagar parliament seat to NC after Tariq Karra resigned from the party and the parliament seat. “Mir has a good base not only in Srinagar but also in some pockets of South Kashmir. To drop him was never a good idea,” said another PDP leader from Srinagar.
However, in the reshuffle, the party dropped one of its senior leaders, Rural Development Minister Abdul Haq Khan. He had won elections from the Kupwara’s Lolab constituency. With Khan’s exit, Kupwara has no representation in the Cabinet from the PDP quota. Though Sajjad Lone is in the cabinet, he is from the BJP quota. Sources said that Khan was shown door as party leadership was not happy with him.