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Team Manmohan ready for governance


New Delhi : Team Manmohan was finally inducted Thursday with 14 cabinet ministers and 45 ministers of state taking oath at the Rashtrapati Bhavan to wrap up the 79-member council of ministers that will shepherd the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) second tenure in office.

In a businesslike ceremony that started punctually at 11.30 a.m. at the historic Ashoka Hall in the presidential palace, President Pratibha Patil administered the oath of office to the 59 ministers in the second phase of ministry formation — 19 cabinet ministers were sworn in May 22.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, only the second prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to get a second consecutive term in office, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were seated in the front row to watch the proceedings that was the culmination of days of intense lobbying for ministerial berths.

Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani was conspicuous by his absence at the ceremony. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader had attended the first instalment of ministerial inductions last week.

The new council of ministers includes 59 from the Congress and 19 from five allies: seven each from DMK and Trinamool Congress, three from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and one each from the Muslim League and National Conference.

The cabinet ministers were the first to be sworn in, followed by seven ministers of state with independent charge and 38 ministers of state.

Kicking off the proceedings was former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, one of the nine fomer chief ministers who comprise Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. He was followed by National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh, DMK leaders Dayanidhi Maran and A. Raja, Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge and Subodh Kant Sahay.

The others who took oath were Congress’ M.S. Gill, G.K. Vasan, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Mukul Wasnik, Kantilal Bhuria, Kumari Selja and DMK’s M.K. Azhagiri.

As the ceremony proceeded with clockwork precision, the others quickly followed suit. Some fumbling a bit, like Congress’ Jairam Ramesh who forgot to sign the register after his oath and V. Narayansamy who asked the president to wait a bit while he settled his papers. But Saugata Ray of the Trinamool Congress was only too ready and started off even before Patil could prompt him, leading to laughs all around.

Most of the ministers were dressed in their traditional best like Congress MP Sachin Pilot who sported a red Rajasthani turban, debutant Shashi Tharoor who threw a saffron and white angavastram over his kurta, and the DMK brigade, all clad in the ‘veshti’, sarong, from back home in Tamil Nadu except for filmstar D. Napoleon who decided to be different and wear black trousers.

The only person to wear a western business suit was M.S. Gill.

Watching on were Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and a stubbled Rahul Gandhi.

Nine women, one less than last time, find place in the council of ministers, whose average age is 57. The youngest is Agatha Sangma, the last to take oath, who is 27 and the oldest at 77 is External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Thirteen people are in their 40s and younger.

At the end of the one-and-a-half hour long ceremony, the council that has come under criticism for not having enough representation from the most populous state Unttar Pradesh or from the minority Muslim community, was ready for governance – for the next five years.

The ministers’ portfolios, tussle over which led to delay in ministry formation, are likely to be announced later in the day.