Parikkar gets defence, Prabhu railways as Modi expands ministry

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday expanded his over five-month-old council of ministers with the inclusion of 21 ministers, taking its total strength to 66, including the prime minister himself. In the process, Modi also inducted former Goa chief minister Manohar Parikar as the new defence minister and replaced railway minister Sadananda Gowda with Suresh Prabhu, formerly of the Shiv Sena.

 
President Pranab Mukherjee, vice president, Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the newly inducted Ministers after a Swearing-in Ceremony, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on 9 November 2014  

President Pranab Mukherjee administered the oath of office and secrecy to newly-included ministers at an impressive ceremony at the Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday.

The expansion saw inclusion of four cabinet ministers, three ministers of state with independent charge and 14 ministers of state.

However, the occasion was marred by another Shiv Sena leader Anil Desai refusing to take oath despite his name being widely discussed. And in another twist, Suresh Prabhu who was to be inducted as a Sena member, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before being sworn in as cabinet minister.

Obviously, the Sena, which was peeved at Prabhu joining the cabinet felt let down by the other post being that of a minister of state.

Sena's Rajya Sabha member, Anil Desai, who was tipped to become a minister, was ordered to return to Mumbai just hours before the swearing in ceremony.

Sena had demanded two more cabinet berths, but 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 not to accept the offer.

An angry Thackeray is said to be planning to withdraw heavy industry minister Anant Geete also from the Modi government and sit in the opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly.

BJP's master-strategist Jagat Prakash Nadda has been given the health portfolio while Birender Singh who has been inducted as a cabinet minister, has been made the new minister for rural development, panchayati raj, drinking water and sanitation.

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley who retained the finance and corporate affairs portfolio, has been asked to handle information and broadcasting ministry in place of defence. 

Sadananda Gowda has been shifted from railways to law and justice ministry.

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.

The Modi ministry also added 14 ministers of state, including BJP vice president spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Others who were sworn in as ministers of state include 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.

Significantly, Naqvi, BJP vice president and a minister in the Vajpayee government, was only made a minister of state, while Mahesh Sharma, a first time member of Lok Sabha, was made minister of state with independent charge. Rajiv Pratap Rudy also became minister of state with independent charge while 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.

With this, the strength of the union council of ministers goes up from 45 to 66, which now has 27 of cabinet rank ministers, including the prime minister, 13 ministers of state with independent charge and 26 ministers of state.

Vice president Hamid Ansari, Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson P J Kurien, PM Modi and his cabinet colleagues, BJP President Amit Shah and L K Advani attended the swearing-in ceremony.

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.