All the ten Ministers of the National Conference (NC) on Monday submitted their resignation letters to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, enabling him to constitute a fresh Council of Ministers. With three slots being vacant for quite some time and one of the Ministers likely to be dropped, minimum of four new faces would be inducted in the four-year-old coalition government of the NC and the Congress at a swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan on Tuesday.

A maximum of 25 legislators, or 20 per cent of the total strength in the bicameral J&K Legislature, can be inducted by law as Ministers. Two slots of the Congress and one more of the NC have been vacant since August 2010. In addition to Mr. Abdullah, the NC has currently eight Cabinet Ministers and two Ministers of State. Congress has seven Ministers in the Cabinet besides three junior Ministers. Independent MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir has been functioning as a Cabinet Minister. The Congress owns him as an associate member.

Top-ranking political sources confirmed to The Hindu that all the all the eight Cabinet Ministers of the NC handed over their resignations to the Chief Minister, hours before he hosted a dinner for them at his residence. They include the high-profile Minister of Finance, Abdul Rahim Rather, Minister of Rural Development Ali Mohammad Sagar, Minister of Forest Mian Altaf Ahmad, Minister of Industries Surjit Singh Salathia besides Minister of Social Welfare Sakeena Itoo, Minister of Higher Education Abdul Gani Malik and Minister of Animal Husbandry Aga Ruhullah.

As desired by Mr. Abdullah, both of the party’s junior Ministers, Nasir Aslam Wani and Javed Ahmad Dar, too passed on their resignation letters to the Chief Minister’s Secretariat.

The Chief Minister also sought resignation from his high-profile Political Adviser Devinder Singh Rana, who is holding the status of a Minister of State, and another Adviser, Mubarak Gul, who is enjoying the rank and protocol of a Cabinet Minister.

Three more legislators, who are holding the status of a junior Minister, namely Shameema Firdaus (MLA), Rashpal Singh (MLA) and Mushtaq Bukhari (MLC), too tendered their resignations on the Chief Minister’s direction. They have been functioning as heads of three different Commissions.

In talks with Soz

Sources said that Mr. Abdullah remained in contact — physically as well as over telephone — with leaders of the coalition partner, Congress, particularly the J&K Pradesh Congress Committee president, Saif-ud-din Soz, and the Union Minister of Health and general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, Ghulam Nabi Azad. Raj Bhavan sources confirmed that Governor N.N. Vohra would administer the oath of office and secrecy to the Ministers being inducted in the Council at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

A major shakeup in the Congress is said to be unlikely as only the Minister of Sports and Medical Education, R.S. Chib, is expected to be dropped. Mr. Chib’s term as MLC is ending in March this year. This can create room for three entrants. The coalition leadership has remained tight-lipped with regard to prospects of different contenders though the names of former Ministers, Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, Ghulam Ahmad Mir and Abdul Majid Wani, as also that of MLA Banihal, Weqar Rasool Wani, are doing the rounds. Senior leaders of the party did not mention any names but confirmed that there would be a major shake-up in portfolios of the Congress Ministers.

Speculations rife on duo

In the NC, one of the two significant crowd-pullers of Kupwara district, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan (MLA from Handwara) and Mir Saifullah (MLA from Kupwara) is expected to be sworn in as a Minister. Former Minister, Mr. Ramzan has the distinction of having bagged the largest number of votes, among nearly 2000 candidates in Kashmir Valley in the 2008 Assembly elections.

The party’s well-connected circles are also describing NC’s MLA of Kishtwar, Sajad Ahmad Kichloo, and the recently elected MLC and representative of Sarpanchs and Panchs, Dr. Shehnaz Ganai, as the probables. In the formation of the government in January 2009, followed by a Cabinet expansion in July 2009, the NC had not given representation to erstwhile Doda district and the Muslim-dominated Poonch-Rajouri belt of Jammu. Mr. Kichloo and Ms. Ganai hail from these areas respectively.