17 new faces including BJP leaders S S Ahluwalia, and M J Akbar and allies Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal and Ramdas Athawale of RPI were today inducted along with two old hands Vijay Goel and Faggan Kulaste into the Modi government in expansion and reshuffle in which five were dropped and Environment Minister Prakash Javedekar was elevated to the Cabinet.
The second exercise by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in little more than two years since he took over in May 2014 saw a number a dalit and OBC leaders being given ministerial positions done apparently with an eye on assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand next year and Gujarat later.
Javadekar, who held independent charge of Environment, was the lone minister to be promoted to the cabinet rank while all new inductees took oath as Ministers of State. Earlier, there was speculation that Power Minister Piyush Goel and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be elevated to cabinet.
Ajay Tamta (Uttarakhand), Arjun Ram Meghwal (Rajasthan), Krishna Raj (UP), Athawale (Maharashtra), Ramesh C Jigajinagi (Karnataka) were among the dalit MPs administered the oath of Office and Secrecy by President Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhawan attended by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Modi, his cabinet colleagues, BJP President Amit Shah and leaders allied parties among others.
No Congress leader was present. Others who were inducted included P P Chaudhary, C R Chaudhary (Rajasthan), A M Dave, Faggan Singh Kulaste (Madhya Pradesh), Mahendra Nath Pandey (UP), Purshotam Rupala, J Bhabhor and Mansukhbhai Mandaviya (Gujarat), Rajen Gohain (Assam) and S R Bhamre (Maharashtra).
Akbar was elected recently to Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh while Goel represents Rajasthan in the Upper House. Ahluwalia was elected to Lok Sabha from Darjling while Anupriya Patel was elected from Mirzapur in UP. Those dropped from the ministry are Nihalchand, Ram Shankar Katheria, Sanwar Lal Jat, Manuskhbhai D Vasava and M K Kundariya. All barring Goel and Faggan Kulaste are new faces while a few have been ministers in BJP-ruled state governments.
After the dropping of five ministers, today’s expansion took the total strength of the Council of Ministers to 78, four below the Constitutional bar of 82. The Council of Ministers can have a maximum of 15 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha, which has 542 members. Official sources said the exercise was aimed at infusing more “experience, expertise and energy” into the government.
The choices also underscore BJP’s attempts to strengthen its vote base among dalits and other backward castes, party sources said, adding that states, where it has done well in the Lok Sabha polls and also where it faces state polls, have also now got ample representation. The saffron party has been trying to woo the weaker sections ahead of the crucial UP polls.