A celebration of talent marked Prime Minister Narendra Modi's much-awaited overhaul of his Council of Ministers on Sunday. The 21 new faces in Modi's team featured a Harvard MBA, a man who began as a plumber and worked his way up, two PhDs, an Olympic silver medallist, a chartered accountant and a trained pilot. The strength of the Council of Ministers went up from 45 to 66, with 27, including the Prime Minister, of Cabinet rank, 13 Ministers of State with independent charge and 26 Ministers of State. The Modi overhaul didn't ignore political imperatives either.
Ministers were sworn in from major states where Assembly elections are due in the next two years: Bihar, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. Modi's politics is tending to getting broadbased and this was reflected in a Dalit face each from Punjab and Haryana. Modi also addressed the labels of 'insipid' and 'talent crunch' that the Cabinet sworn in on May 26 had drawn from critics.
Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena kept away from the swearing-in ceremony, apparently incensed at being offered only one junior ministerial post in the form of Anil Desai, who was promptly recalled. Thackeray later vented at a press meet, also conveying his displeasure at Suresh Prabhu's induction into the Cabinet and threatening a Sena in the Opposition benches of the Maharashtra Assembly if the BJP leaned on Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party.
Portfolios were announced late on Sunday well after the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan. The big changes were defence to former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, and railways to former Sena leaderturned-BJP member Suresh Prabhu. Former Congress leader from Haryana Birender Singh was given charge of rural development, panchayati raj and drinking water, held by Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari after the unfortunate death of BJP's Maharashtra strongman Gopinath Munde. Major demotions included D.V. Sadananda Gowda who lost railways to Suresh Prabhu, Ravi Shankar Prasad who lost the law ministry to Gowda but retained telecom, Dr Harsh Vardhan who lost health and family welfare to J.P. Nadda but was moved to Science and Technology as a possible first step towards being the chief ministerial face in the BJP's upcoming Delhi Assembly campaign and Prakash Javadekar who lost Information and Broadcasting to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
First-time MPs who were rewarded include Jayant Sinha who has become a junior minister in the finance ministry and Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who has been similarly placed in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The new-look Modi Cabinet is a mix of ability and experience. Leaders like Manohar Parrikar and Jayant Sinha are IIT graduates but they also have strong political backgrounds. And there is Suresh Prabhu, whose skills as an administrator were recognised by none other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Others who bring in dollops of experience and a proven track record of organisational skill are J.P. Nadda, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and Ram Kripal Yadav.
Parrikar, an alumnus of IIT-Bombay, was tipped to take over as the next defence minister, though there was also buzz that he could be given charge of the home ministry, with Home Minister Rajnath Singh moving to defence. Jayant Sinha, the son of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, studied at IIT-Delhi and Harvard in the US. Given his background that also includes a substantial stint with McKinsey and Company, the buzz was that he could be given the post of Minister of State in the Finance Ministry.
Similarly, Prabhu has been appointed as Modi's ' lead sherpa' to assist the Prime Minister at the upcoming G20 summit in Brisbane. He had built a reputation of being a reformer as power minister in the Vajpayee government.
Dr Mahesh Sharma, the BJP MP from Gautam Buddh Nagar Lok Sabha seat, was inducted into the Cabinet despite being a firsttime MP. He has served as an MLA in Uttar Pradesh and is an established doctor in the Noida region.
Singer-turned-politician Babul Supriyo, who represents Asansol constituency of West Bengal, was also given the status of Minister of State and given urban development. Hansraj Ahir, among the first to expose the coal scam, was sworn-in as Minister of State and given chemicals and fertilizers.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy, making a comeback, was sworn in as a Minister of State with independent charge. The commercial pilot has been general secretary of the BJP and proved his organisation skills in the recent Maharashtra Assembly polls.
The 53-year-old Nadda is known for organising time management workshops for BJP workers and prefers to work behind the scenes. Along with Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, he is known to be part of the group of leaders that makes all major decisions in the party and is expected to act as a bridge between the party and the government.
While selecting names for the first expansion of his council of ministers, Modi tried to balance regional and caste considerations. Keeping in mind Assembly elections in Bihar next year, RJD rebel Ram Kripal Yadav was inducted with the aim of wooing the sizeable Yadav votebank in Bihar. Other representatives from Bihar were Rudy and Giriraj Singh. Singh, slammed for his controversial comment asking Modi's critics to move to Pakistan, represents the powerful Bhumihar community. He is a first-time minister.
Chaudhary Birendra Singh, a prominent Jat leader from Haryana, was inducted to give representation to the state. Supriyo is one of two BJP MPs from West Bengal, where the party hopes to make a dent in state polls in 2016. Representation from Rajasthan, where BJP won all 25 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, went up from one to three with the inclusion of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Sanwar Lal Jat.
Several states got greater representation through the new faces, including UP (Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Mahesh Sharma), Gujarat (Mohanbhai Kalyanjibhai Kundariya), Andhra Pradesh (Y.S. Chowdary) and Telangana (Bandaru Dattatreya).
The new selections for the council of ministers bore the distinct stamp of the RSS. Many of the new ministers, including Parrikar and Nadda, have deep roots in the BJP's ideological mentor.
A new minister making waves is Vijay Sampla, who worked as a plumber in Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the only woman to be included in today's exercise was Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti. The saffron-robed 47-year-old was sworn in as a minister of state.
The swearing-in ceremony was attended by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P.J. Kurien, Modi and his Cabinet colleagues, BJP president Amit Shah and party patriarch L.K. Advani. Chief Ministers of BJPruled states like Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh, Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP were present, No one from the Congress attended the ceremony.