Home India Politics No whiff of political tension at oath-taking

No whiff of political tension at oath-taking

New Delhi : Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first cabinet expansion Sunday was a smooth affair with 21 new people taking oath as ministers even as the underlying political tension was playing out, with the Shiv Sena boycotting the ceremony and calling back its ministerial nominee Anil Desai at the last hour.

The cabinet expansion saw four take oath as cabinet ministers, three as ministers of state (independent charge) and 14 as ministers of state (MoS).

After former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar took oath, the first to do so, amid applause, it was the turn of Suresh Prabhu to walk up for the swearing-in.

As he signed the register and shook hands with President Pranab Mukherjee in the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Prabhu’s body language did not give an inkling to the political drama that had already taken place minutes earlier. He had quit the Shiv Sena party to formally join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the ceremony.

Another Shiv Sena member Anil Desai was recalled to Mumbai after he had landed in Delhi as the party was miffed at his being given an MoS berth.

President Mukherjee, in a statement later, said: “Anil Desai could not be administered the oath of office and secrecy as he was not available for the purpose.”

Hindi was expectedly the flavour of the afternoon, as has been ever since the Modi government came to power on May 26. Most of the ministers took oath in Hindi, barring Y.S. Chowdary of Telugu Desam Party and singer Babul Supriyo, first-time BJP MP from Asansol in West Bengal.

Most of the ministers were attired in half-jackets, once closely associated with India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Modi and his ministers are always attired in kurta-pyjama and half jacket. Prabhu was attired in a casual brown full-sleeve pullover, while Parrikar was in a half-sleeved shirt and trousers.

The lone woman minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, BJP MP from Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh, stood out in her bright saffron robes. With her induction, the number of women in the Modi ministry has gone up to eight.

Jaipur Rural MP and Olympian shooter Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore stood out in his light bandh-gala suit that was offset with a bright flowing Rajasthani bandhni turban.

Earlier, Modi, who was attired in a black half-jacket, got a standing ovation as he arrived at the stately Durbar Hall ahead of Vice-President Hamid Ansari and President Mukherjee.

Before the official function began, BJP leaders and ministers of the Modi cabinet went up to the corner where new inductees were seated to congratulate them. There were hugs and hand shakes as the leaders smiled and soaked in the atmosphere of the momentous occasion.

Modi looked pensive and rarely smiled as the oath taking ceremony went on, perhaps reflecting on the political tension with the BJP’s once-long-time ally, the Shiv Sena.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were conspicuous by their absence. Manmohan Singh’s aide said he had got the invite in the morning but due to a “previous engagement” he was unable to attend.

Among the guests were Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. TDP’s Y.S. Chowdary was inducted as MoS. Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav and Rajya Sabha Deputy chairman P.J. Kurien of the Congress were present.

Three new BJP chief ministers — Manohar Lal Khattar of Haryana, Devendra Fadnavis of Maharashtra and Laxmikant Parsekar, who took charge of Goa on Saturday after Parikkar quit — were among those present. Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh) and Vasundhra Raje (Rajasthan) were also present.

BJP veteran L.K. Advani entered the Durbar Hall a few minutes before Modi. He was seated next to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan in the front row. Modi was seen chatting with Mahajan, who was seated next to him.

BJP president Amit Shah was seated next to Advani in the front row. The entire cabinet was present, along with Lok Janshakti Party’s Ramvilas Paswan and Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur — both cabinet ministers.

Former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Ram Madhav, who has joined the BJP, was also present.

While most of the new ministers took their oath effortlessly, BJP leader J.P. Nadda, who took oath as cabinet minister, appeared to fumble a bit with a word. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti was interrupted during the oath taking by the president when she said “Bharat” instead of “Sangh”.

The three service chiefs were present and went forward to have a word with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is likely to be divested of the defence portfolio.

Nadda later told IANS that it was “proud privilege” that the prime minister had given him the opportunity to work with him.