New Delhi : Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday expanded his council of ministers, inducting 21 new faces, including four of cabinet rank, in a bid to consolidate the gains of the Lok Sabha elections by giving representation to various regions and communities, while also reshuffling some key portfolios.
Manohar Parrikar is the new defence minister, Suresh Prabhu has been given charge of railways, Jagat Prakash Nadda is the new health and family welfare minister, while Birender Singh succeeds the late Gopinath Munde as the rural development and panchayati raj minister.
The 45-member Modi ministry Sunday added to it four cabinet ministers, three ministers of state with independent charge, and 14 ministers of state (MoS).
Portfolios of the new ministers were announced late Sunday night ahead of the first meeting of the expanded ministry slated for Monday. There was also a reshuffle of portfolios.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who relinquishes his additional charge of defence to Parrikar, has been now given information and broadcasting, currently held by Parakash Javadekar as a minister of state (independent charge).
D.V. Sadananda Gowda was moved from railways to law and justice, held by Ravi Shankar Prasad, who now just has the portfolio of communications and information technology. Harsh Vardhan has been shifted from health to science and technology, currently held by minister of state (independent charge) Jitendra Singh.
The much-anticipated first ministry expansion was marred with ally Shiv Sena calling off participation in the government at the last minute, exacerbating their already strained ties.
Prabhu, who was a minister in the first national Democratic Alliance government, was sworn in after he quit the Shiv Sena and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In Mumbai, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray described Prabhu’s joining the BJP as “unfortunate” but indicated that Anant Geete, party’s representative in the Modi government, will continue for the time being.
Thackeray put a condition that his party will sit in opposition in Maharashtra if BJP takes support of the Nationalist Congress Party to prove its majority in the state assembly Nov 12.
The Sena at the last minute recalled Anil Desai, who it had nominated for induction in the union ministry. According to reports, Desai arrived in Delhi for the oath-taking ceremony but was ordered to return.
Parrikar, who is widely tipped to get the defence portfolio, was the first to be administered oath by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan and was followed by Nadda, who is known to be close to Modi and party chief Amit Shah.
Giriraj Singh, 61, who courted controversy with his comment that “those who oppose Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan” and was also booked for the hate speech, got a place as as minister of state.
Jayant Sinha, the IIT-Delhi and Harvard-educated MP from Hazaribagh in election-bound Jharkhand, is among the professionals inducted in the ministry as a balancing act to induction of state leaders with caste or community base.
The ministry expansion also signalled BJP’s efforts to consolidate its gains in the states it had done well in the Lok Sabha elections and give representation to various dominant castes and communities to expand its social base in view of the assembly elections over the next few years.
Keeping in mind next year’s elections in Bihar which are crucial for the BJP, the council has three new faces from the state – Rajiv Pratap Rudy (MoS independent charge), Ram Kirpal Yadav and Giriraj Singh (both MoS), all belonging to different and numerically significant communities. Union ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Ravi Shankar Prasad are also from Bihar.
Uttar Pradesh, another state crucial for the BJP, got four new berths – Mahesh Sharma, a doctor who is the MP from Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida); Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is a Rajya Sabha member; Ram Shankar Katheria, the Agra MP; and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti.
Even with Sunday’s expansion, Modi’s ministry is leaner than those headed by Manmohan Singh. Officials said that Singh’s ministry stood at 78 after its final reshuffle while the previous NDA had expanded even beyond that.
Modi also brought into his ministry the party’s known Muslim face in Naqvi, adding to Najma Heptullah, who is minority affairs minister.
He also added to the representation of women by inducting Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, BJP MP from Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh, to take their number to eight.
The youngest MP inducted in the ministry Sunday is well-known singer Babul Supriyo Baral, the only face in the ministry from West Bengal where the BJP wants to consolidate after recent gains. The Asansol MP was inducted as a minister of state.
The only NDA ally to get a berth in Sunday’s expansion was Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Rajya Sabha MP, Y.S. Chowdary as an MoS.
Apart from Prabhu, the BJP inducted party MP Hansraj Ahir from Maharashtra where the party got success in the recent assembly polls.
Gujarat got new faces – Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, and Mohanbhai Kalyanjibhai Kundarya, while Olympian Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Sanwar Lal Jat were inducted from Rajasthan. Vijay Sampla, BJP Hoshiarpur MP, was inducted as MoS.