Narendra Modi era starts

Written by Express news service | New Delhi | Updated: May 27 2014, 05:55am hrs
ModiArmed with a decisive mandate, Narendra Modi took oath as the 15th Prime Minister of India on Monday evening
Armed with a decisive mandate, Narendra Modi took oath as the 15th Prime Minister of India on Monday evening. In keeping with his "minimum government, maximum governance" mantra, Modi opted for a lean team of 45 ministers 23 Cabinet ministers, 10 ministers of state with independent charge and 12 ministers of state. The average age of the Cabinet is 60 years.

Ten minutes after 6 pm, Modi, 63, was sworn into office by President Pranab Mukherjee at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, in the presence of a galaxy of dignitaries including heads of SAARC countries like Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

BJP president Rajnath Singh took oath after Modi, followed by Sushma Swaraj and then Arun Jaitley, indicating the pecking order in the new Cabinet. The Prime Minister and the three senior ministers will comprise the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). All four will sit in the all-powerful CCS for the first time. While Singh, Swaraj and Jaitley were ministers in the AB Vajpayee government, they did not hold the crucial defence, external affairs and home portfolios.

As expected, the BJP retained most of the Cabinet berths, giving only four to its allies LJP's Ram Vilas Paswan, Shiv Sena's Anant Geete, TDP's Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Akali Dal's Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Among the other senior BJP leaders who have been included in the Cabinet are Nitin Gadkari, Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Uma Bharti, Gopinath Munde, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Najma Heptullah, the lone Muslim face.

This is the smallest government to take oath in the last 15 years. While Manmohan Singh led a 67-member Council of Ministers in his first term, his team increased to 78 ministers in UPA-II. Former Prime Minister Vajpayee was sworn in with 71 ministers in 1999.

To keep his team small, Modi has gone in for radical restructuring of ministries, merging many of them. For instance, the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution and food processing industries, carved out of the agriculture ministry, are set to be reunited. Reintegration of the ministry of overseas Indian affairs with the ministry of external affairs is also on the cards.

Among the big states, Rajasthan, where the BJP won all 25 Lok Sabha seats, got only one ministerial berth. Modi ignored the four people whose names were recommended by chief minister Vasundhara Raje for inclusion in the ministry, including her son Dushyant Singh.

That Modi is looking beyond the Hindi heartland became clear when he inducted the lone BJP MP from Tamil Nadu, Pon Radhakrishnan. Nirmala Sitharaman has also found a place in the council of ministers. Sending out a message to the Northeast, Sarbananda Sonowal from Assam and Kiran Rijiju from Arunachal Pradesh have been included in the team.

The new ministry has seven Brahmins, five Khastriyas, six OBCs, five Scheduled Tribes, three Scheduled Castes, two Sikhs, two Banias, one Khatri, one Buddhist and one Muslim.

The inclusion of Madhya Pradesh BJP president Narendra Singh Tomar and former state chief minister Uma Bharti is bad news for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. As a Union minister, Bharti will be free to go to Madhya Pradesh, which would mean an end to her political exile from her home state. She was earlier sent to Uttar Pradesh to ensure that she did not put Chouhan to any discomfort.

By taking both Gadkari and Gopinath Munde into the Cabinet, Modi has apparently tried to maintain a balance between the different factions in the party's Maharashtra unit. He has also kept in mind the Assembly elections in the state due later this year.

Modi has sent out a message to Haryana too, which is also going to polls later this year, by inducting Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit Singh and Faridabad MP Krishan Pal Gujjar. Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where the BJP performed well, have been left out. Kalraj Mishra, who was made to shift to Deoria from Kanpur a constituency which he has been nursing for a long time at the eleventh hour, has also made it to the Cabinet.

Several ministers who were sworn in on Monday were also a part of Vajpayee's team. These include Rajnath Singh, Swaraj, Jaitley, Naidu, Bharti, Paswan, Maneka Gandhi, Ananth Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Geete, Jual Oram and Santosh Gangwar.

While Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhvi Ritambhara attended the swearing-in, yoga guru Ramdev was absent.