Amit Shah, ex-diplomat Jaishankar in 'new' Modi Cabinet, portfolios to be decided on Friday
BJP president the biggest name in the council of ministers, third in pecking order; Smriti gets huge applause, Cabinet rank; social messaging in MoS list as those from humble background get berths
NEW DELHI: With Rashtrapati Bhavan’s massive Tuscan pillars and the stupa-shaped dome in the backdrop, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his council of ministers took the oath of office and secrecy on Thursday at a grand ceremony that marked the entry, expectedly, of BJP chief Amit Shah into the Cabinet. Although Shah is third in terms of seniority, with Rajnath Singh occupying the number two slot, he is widely expected to be the de facto second in command with many of the ministers considered his confidants.
Shah’s entry into Team Modi is being seen as a clear attempt to prepare a line of succession at the top. Set to be part of the Cabinet Committee on Security, his stature has taken a mighty leap after he delivered victories for the party in uncharted territories. The composition of the council of ministers, drawn heavily from the Lok Sabha, is also being seen as the Modi-Shah duo’s final stamp on the party and the government as neither Arun Jaitley nor Sushma Swaraj, groomed by BJP patriarch L K Advani, figures in the Cabinet.
By bringing in former foreign secretary and China expert Subramaniam Jaishankar into the Cabinet, Modi has made it clear that he wanted a strong hand to man the Ministry of External Affairs. Jaishankar’s ministerial debut signaled Modi’s intent to reach out to Beijing on the border dispute, besides aggressively asserting India’s position in the world. The irony of the moment was not lost on anyone as Swaraj, sitting among the audience, watched as her former secretary took the oath.
As many as 10 Cabinet ministers — Swaraj, J P Nadda, Suresh Prabhu, Anant Geete, Choudhary Birendra Singh, Maneka Gandhi, Arun Jaitley, Uma Bharti, Jual Oram and Radha Mohan Singh — were dropped. Prabhu’s ouster was apparently dictated by NDA ally Shiv Sena. His induction during Modi’s first term was one of the reasons for the regular slugfest between the Sena and the BJP.
Nadda’s omission is possibly on account of him succeeding Shah as the BJP president. Nadda is currently parliamentary board secretary of the party and is seen as the choice of the PM to head the party after Shah.
The evening’s only jarring note was provided by the Janata Dal (U), which refused to join the ministry because of differences over the number of berths offered to it. The JD(U) had hoped for three ministerial berths but the BJP was willing to offer only one.
By renominating Narendra Singh Tomar, Thawar Chand Gehlot and Prahlad Singh Patel, all from Madhya Pradesh, Modi appears to have put faith in continuity. Also, Piyush Goyal, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar and Smriti Irani retained their positions in the Cabinet. The loudest cheer after Modi was perhaps reserved for Irani, who staged the biggest upset of the elections by defeating Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Cries of Har har Mahadev filled the stolid, red and buff sandstone edifice as she made her way to take oath.
Modi also inducted Arjun Munda and Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” of Jharkhand and Uttarakhand respectively, seemingly to cap the factional infighting plaguing Chief Ministers Raghubar Das and Trivendra Singh Rawat.
Three ministers of state in Modi’s first term — Mahendra Nath Pandey, Giriraj Singh and Gajendra Shekhawat — got promoted to Cabinet rank. The three were Shah’s generals in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.D V Sadananda Gowda, Pralhad Joshi and A S Channabasappa (Karnataka), Sitharaman (Andhra Pradesh), G Kishan Reddy (Telangana) and V Muraleedharan (Kerala) represented BJP’s southern focus in the government.
Did late lunch force Jagan to cancel Delhi visit?
Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, who had taken oath as Andhra CM earlier on Thursday, and Telangana CM
K Chandrashekar Rao were expected to travel to Delhi from Vijayawada to attend Modi’s swearing-in. But reports said the luncheon meeting dragged on and with DGCA denying permission for unscheduled flights to Delhi after 3 pm, the trip was cancelled.
Rahul, Sonia attend event
Top opposition leaders including former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh were part of the nearly 8,000 guests at the ceremony.
Average age of new team
Smriti Irani (43) is the youngest in Modi’s council of ministers, whose average age is 60. During Modi’s previous term, the average age was 62. The oldest minister to be sworn in on Thursday is LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan, who is 73.