Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with 57 Ministers, took oath of office at a grand swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday.
The size of the event, however, was not the only thing that made news, with BJP chief Amit Shah finally deciding to join the Union government, and former Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar making a surprise entry into the Union Cabinet, among the top 10 Ministers.
The drama of the event was not restricted to those who did not make the cut from the last government — almost 22 Ministers have been dropped including those who lost the polls this time. NDA ally Janata Dal (U) hogged the limelight, ironically, by keeping away from the event because Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar demanded more berths than the single one being offered to every ally.
The government formation exercise was significant as much for those who took oath and those excluded. The news that former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would not be joining the Union Council of Ministers was not apparent till she arrived for the ceremony and proceeded to occupy a front row seat among the guests.
Sources in the government said she had “opted out” and linked it to her decision — announced during the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls — that she would not be contesting Lok Sabha elections.
Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also opted out on Wednesday, citing health reasons.
Other notable exclusions were former Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, former Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi (making it possibly the first time that no Gandhi on either side is in government), former Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu, former Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, and former Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha.
NDA ally Anupriya Patel was also dropped, with no reason given even though she won her Lok Sabha seat.
However, Republican Party of India’s (RPI) Ramdas Athawale was accommodated without a single LS seat.
For party president
The most interesting exclusion was that of former Health Minister J.P. Nadda, who is tipped to be the next BJP president since Mr. Shah has joined the government. Fresh elections to the post are due later this year, and will be an interesting political event to watch out for.
The BJP goes in for a strict adherence to the one-man, one-post rule, but sources confirm that Mr. Shah may continue in both the ministry and as party chief till later in the year when his tenure (which had been extended to cover the Lok Sabha election) ends and the inter-party process of election concludes.
In all, the council of ministers saw representation from 22 States, and an attempt to balance caste and regional equations.
Tribal, minority and backward and upper caste representation found place in the coveted list.
Women accounted for six out of the 58 berths, with three Cabinet nods for Nirmala Sitharaman, Harsimrat Badal of the Akali Dal and Smriti Irani.
Representation from Dalit communities included Thawarchand Gehlot, Ramdas Athawale, Ram Vilas Paswan, Ratan Lal Kataria (who won from Ambala) and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti.
Stamp of Prime Minister Modi
The council of ministers carried a firm stamp of Prime Minister Modi with not only his penchant for drawing from bureaucratic sources like Mr Jaishankar, but also picking Pratap Sarangi who won from Balasore in Odisha and whose almost fairy tale like story of forging a political life while living in near poverty captured the imagination of the country.
Unmistakably, however, Prime Minister Modi’s bold broad strokes while drawing up his council of ministers showed that he was determined to use the vast elbow room the 353 score of the NDA in Parliament has afforded him.