Manohar Parrikar, tipped to get Defence portfolio, and former Shiv Sainik Suresh Prabhu were today inducted into the Union Cabinet as Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought in 21 new faces into his Council of Ministers but Shiv Sena stuck a jarring note holding back a senior leader from joining the government.
The already-strained BJP-Sena ties further dipped today when Prabhu, Power minister in Vajpayee government, deserted the Sena and joined BJP this morning to take oath as a Cabinet minister.
Senior BJP leader J P Nadda and Jat leader from Haryana Birender Singh, who joined BJP ahead of recent Assembly elections also took oath as Cabinet ministers.
Bandaru Dattatreya and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who were ministers in Vajpayee government, and Mahesh Sharma, newly-elected MP from Gautam Buddh Nagar bordering Delhi, were sworn-in as Ministers of State with Independent Charge.
14 other Ministers of State were sworn-in. They are Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Ram Kripal Yadav, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, Sanwar Lal Jat and Mohanbhai Kalyanjibhai Kundariya Giriraj Singh, Hansraj Ahir, Ram Shankar Katheria, Jayant Sinha, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Babul Supriyo, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Vijay Sampla (all BJP) and Y S Chowdary, a Rajya Sabha member from TDP.
This is the first expansion of his ministry by Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he assumed power in May. Parrikar is all set to be given Defence portfolio, which is held as additional charge by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
On a day of dramatic developments, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray kept the door open saying BJP should come clear on whether it wants to take NCP’s support in Maharashtra in two or three days.
“If BJP wants to go with NCP, then our path will be different. We are prepared to sit in the Opposition,” Thackeray told the media after a meeting with party leaders late in the evening. The new BJP government in Maharashtra is to face a trial of strength on Tuesday after which the Sena would finalise its strategy vis a vis BJP.
Sena’s Rajya Sabha member, Anil Desai, who was tipped to become a minister, was ordered to return to Mumbai from the airport here just hours before the swearing in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, which said he was not available “for the purpose”.
Against Sena’s demand for two more Cabinet berths, the party was reportedly told by BJP President Amit Shah that only one post of the Minister of State was possible for Desai. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray then decided to call it off.
The party is also said to be planning to withdraw Anant Geete, Heavy Industry Minister, from the Modi government and sit in the opposition in Maharashtra Assembly.
Significantly, Naqvi, BJP Vice President and a minister in the Vajpayee government, was only made a Minister of State, and Rudy became MoS with Independent Charge but eyebrows went up when Mahesh Sharma, a first time member of Lok Sabha, was made Minister of State with Independent Charge. Ahir was rewarded for his relentless campaign as a whistle-blower in the coal block allocation scam.
Among those rewarded with ministerial berths were Giriraj Singh, Lok Sabha member from Bihar who had made a controversial statement that the place for Muslims who do not like Modi is in Pakistan and Ram Kripal Yadav, a former RJD leader who defeated Lalu Prasad’s daughter in Patliputra on BJP ticket.
The induction of Rudy, who defeated Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi in Saran, Giriraj Singh and Yadav is seen as an attempt to woo various caste groups in Bihar which will go to Assembly polls next year.
The strength of the Union Council of Ministers goes up from 45 to 66. Of this, 27 including the Prime Minister are of Cabinet rank, 13 Ministers of State with Independent Charge and 26 Ministers of State.
One-third of today’s induction and overall strength of the ministry comes from heartland Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The swearing-in ceremony was attended among others 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 L K Advani.
Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh, Devendra Fadnavis and Manohar Lal Khattar and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu of TDP were also present while none from Congress attended the ceremony.
Ahead of the swearing-in, the new ministers had a breakfast meeting with Modi at his Race Course residence.
An IIT graduate, 58-year-old Parrikar shares an excellent rapport with Modi and has a reputation for probity and administrative skills.
Prabhu also earned his reputation as a skillful operator and reformer as Power minister in Vajpayee government but was suddenly pulled out of the ministry by Shiv Sena. Ever since has has not been seen as an active Sainik.
Dattatreya’s inclusion gives representation to the new Telangana state in the Union ministry while Rudy makes a comeback into the government.
All the other Ministers of State are newcomers and first-time MPs except Naqvi, Rudy and Yadav, who had been a Member of Parliament either of the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.