Amit Shah debuts in Modi's second innings; portfolios to be declared Friday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures after taking oath for the second consecutive term, during a swearing-in ceremony at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi | PTI
Narendra Modi, India’s 16th prime minister, in his second term, put together a Council of Ministers largely composed of the same colleagues who were part of the team when his government left office.

Although his task was made more difficult because this time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 seats, of which 131 have been won by first-time MPs, more than one of every two ministers was repeated, possibly in tacit recognition of the fact that just as he had asked for a second term as prime minister to enable the work left incomplete in his first term, his ministers too deserved the same chance.

Nearly 30 from the previous Council of Ministers have been dropped from the team this time.

As expected, BJP President Amit Shah joined the government, and Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharati and Sumitra Mahajan were not part of the team, with the last three opting to stay out of the electoral contest. Shah is tipped to be finance minister.

The previous government’s civil aviation team — Jayant Sinha and Suresh Prabhu — was dropped. Also dropped was Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore. 

Maneka Gandhi has been named pro tem speaker and could be confirmed in that position once the House is constituted.

Jagat Prakash Nadda does not find mention on the list of ministers: He could be the next BJP president. Also missing were Anant Geete, who was replaced by another Sena minister Arvind Sawant, and former rural development minister Chaudhary Birender Singh, former tribal affairs minister Jual Oram, and former agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh. Others who were dropped included Alphons Kannanthanam, Vijay Goel, S S Ahluwalia, Satya Pal Singh, and P P Chaudhary.

But there were some unexpected new faces among those who were sworn in as cabinet ministers. These included S Jaishankar, former foreign secretary who retired from government to join the Tata group but has returned to leverage his diplomatic heft in government as a cabinet minister. As he is not a member of either house, he will have to be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha from one of the three seats that will fall vacant with the resignation of Amit Shah, Smriti Irani and Ravishankar Prasad, who have all won in the Lok Sabha elections. Hardeep Puri, who is a Rajya Sabha MP and was urban development minister earlier, was inducted though he lost the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat. 

PM Narendra Modi’s mother Hiraba Modi watches him on television as he takes oath for a second term, at her residence in Gandhinagar | Photo: PTI
There will be two ministers from West Bengal, where the BJP gave a stunning performance by winning 18 seats — Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri, the latter being a first-timer in the government.

At least two of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners threw a tantrum and refused to join the government. Nitish Kumar said he and his party felt that giving a paltry single seat to each party without considering what the party had brought to the table — and the pattern of sharing power in the state — was unfair.

Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel, who was a minister in the last government, also stayed out of the swearing-in because she felt her party nominee should have been included in the list of cabinet ministers. 

The alliance partners who took oath as Cabinet minister were Harsimrat Badal from the Akali Dal and Arvind Sawant from the Shiv Sena.

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Although the exit of the alliance partners poses no threat to the government, it did introduce an element of bitterness and discontent to the proceedings, which were celebrated joyously. The loudest applause was reserved for Modi and Shah but Irani and Anurag Thakur too were cheered when they took oath. How Modi and Shah placate alliance partners and win them over remains to be seen. It is unlikely that they will allow things to reach a point where the BJP has to exit the government in Bihar.

In terms of regional representation, UP provided eight ministers, Bihar seven, and Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra six each. South India was most under-represented, reflecting the BJP’s weakness. The largest complement of new ministers from the south came from Karnataka, including Nirmala Sitharaman, who is elected from there. The only nominee in the Council of Ministers from Tamil Nadu was P Raveendranath, the sole MP from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), with which the BJP allied in the state. Raveendranath is the son of Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and won his father’s pocket borough, Theni.

An important principle that seems to have influenced the formation of the Council of Ministers is to reward ‘giant killer’. Kailash Choudhary, who contested the Barmer seat and defeated former BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra Singh, was made minister. Irani, who defeated Rahul Gandhi in Amethyst, and Giraud Singh, who defeated Kanhaiya Kumar in Begusarai, Bihar, despite having been moved out of his traditional constituency, Nawada, where he won in 2014, were also made ministers.

Some ministers who had got the short shrift in the last Council of Ministers appear to have been rehabilitated. Harsh Vardhan, MP from Delhi, was moved from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to the Ministry of Science and Technology in just five months of taking charge in 2014. Sadananda Gowda was moved out of the Ministry of Railways to the Ministry of Statistics. Both have been re-drafted into the government.

Till the end of the working day, it was not clear whether Shah would continue to remain party chief. The BJP has, by and large, respected the principle of one man one post — though Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb continues to be chief of the BJP in the state. Piyush Goyal has been the informal treasurer of the party for several terms though he has been a minister. Though the BJP constitution says nothing about holding two positions, the convention in the party has been that having criticised the Congress in the past for allowing a person from the same family to hold both party presidency and prime ministership, it should not follow the same principle itself.

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