JAMMU: Controversy hit a new reshuffled Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday when BJP leader Kavinder Gupta said after being sworn in as Deputy Chief Minister that the rape and murder of a young girl in Kathua was a “minor issue” that should not have been hyped.
“The Kathua incident is a minor issue. It should not have been hyped this much,” Gupta said about the crime that triggered widespread outrage across the country and cost two of his party colleagues their ministerial jobs in the Mehbooba Mufti-led BJP-PDP coalition government.
Gupta, a known RSS loyalist, however, sought to correct the statement later, saying the matter was already in the court and should be left to the Supreme Court to decide about it.
“It is not good to keep talking about it repeatedly. It is not good to keep playing it up again and again. What I said earlier was that there are many such incidents, nobody should provoke (people) about such incidents deliberately.”
This is not Gupta’s first brush with controversy. As the speaker of the legislative Assembly earlier, he had sparked row by blaming the Rohingya refugees living in Jammu for the attack on an army camp in Sunjwan in February.
Earlier, in a major mid-term cabinet overhaul, Gupta was sworn in as the new Deputy Chief Minister replacing Nirmal Singh, who is set to become the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly.
The Bharatiya Janata Party also inducted Satpal Sharma, its state unit chief, as a cabinet minister along with new faces Rajiv Jasrotia, Sunil Kumar Sharma, Devender Kumar Maniyal and Shakti Raj Parihar.
Jasrotiya, who is the Kathua MLA, was among those seen in a video clip trying to incite violence against the nomadic Muslim community. He attended a rally in support of the Kathua accused.
The issue led to the resignation of BJP leaders Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga from the government over their participation in a rally, supporting the accused in the crime against an eight-year-old who belonged the nomadic community and lived in a tented accommodation with her family in a Kathua village.
Former Chief Minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appeared confused on her stand over Kathua as one of the participants in “pro-rapists” rally was now a minister in her cabinet.
“Two BJP ministers removed in J&K for attending a pro-rapist rally and a MLA who is reported to have attended the same rally is promoted as a minister. Why are the BJP/Mehbooba Mufti confused about where they stand on the Kathua rape?” Abdullah tweeted.
The BJP also withdrew three of its ministers — Nirmal Singh, Bali Bhagat and Priya Sethi — from the government. Singh had angered many BJP supporters when he supported the government’s move for a Crime Branch investigation into the Kathua crime.
All BJP ministers, except for Singh, resigned from the cabinet earlier this month to pave the way for the cabinet rejig. Singh resigned on Sunday night.
The PDP also dropped its senior leader Abdul Haq Khan, the Law and Rural Development Minister, from the cabinet. Muhammad Khalil Bandh and Muhammad Ashraf Mir, MLAs from Pulwama and Srinagar, were sworn in as cabinet ministers on PDP quota.
The oath of office and secrecy was administered by Governor N.N. Vohra at the Jammu Convention Centre.
As per the constitution of the state, the council of ministers in Jammu and Kashmir can only have 25 ministers including the Chief Minister.