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Modi does a balancing act

Sworn in as PM along with his 45-member team; Only one minister each from Gujarat, Rajasthan; 7 women, 10 OBCs in Govt; no minister over 75 years old; Najma Heptulla the only Muslim face in the team

Narendra Modi
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When the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) was on Monday sworn in as the country’s prime minister and his colleagues took the oath of office, there appeared a fine balancing act to give representation to various regions and caste groups in the 46-member Council of Ministers.

It also seemed there was an attempt to balance groups within BJP’s state units, with an eye on Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana later this year.

Apart from Prime Minister Modi, the Council of Ministers has 23 ministers, 10 ministers of state with independent charge and 12 ministers of state.

MODI’S CABINET: THE LIKELY GOVT
There was no official communication on portfolios allocated to the different ministers sworn in on Monday but unconfirmed media reports gave indication on some of the portfolios. Here’s how the new government might look like:
CABINET MINISTERS
MINISTERS OF STATE WITH INDEPENDENT CHARGE

Sources said Modi was likely to expand his Council of Ministers in the next couple of weeks, particularly to assuage some National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members like the Shiv Sena. The Sena, with 18 members in the new Lok Sabha, was unhappy with the one berth (Anant Geete) it had got in the government.

Modi has enough leeway if he wishes to expand his government. According to rules, 15 per cent of the total Lok Sabha strength — that is, 82 members in a House of 543 — can be part of the Council of Ministers. The outgoing Manmohan Singh government had 71 ministers.

In his balancing act, it seems, Modi has also had to sacrifice his desire to accommodate only those born after Independence. Najma Heptulla, the only Muslim face in the Cabinet who is likely to be named minority affairs minister, and Kalraj Mishra, a senior Brahmin leader from Uttar Pradesh — both 74 years old — are the exceptions. However, no minister in the new government is older than 75 years. Party patriarch L K Advani (87) and Murli Manohar Joshi (80) have been kept out.

Such has been the pressure to have representation from all regions that Modi might have been a tad unfair to his own state. Apart from Modi, there is only one minister from Gujarat — Minister of State Mansukhbhai Vasava — despite BJP winning all 26 Lok Sabha seats in that state.

Though Cabinet ministers Arun Jaitley and (tipped to get the finance and human resource development portfolios, respectively) are Rajya Sabha members from Gujarat, they and Harsh Vardhan (expected to be health minister) are likely to be considered representatives from Delhi.

Jaitley was believed to have played a key role in selection of ministers. People widely seen as his acolytes — Ministers of State with independent charge Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar and Piyush Goyal — have all been accommodated (likely to get commerce & industry, information & broadcasting and petroleum & natural gas portfolios, respectively). Sitharaman is not a member of either of the two Houses but is likely to be accommodated soon, as the six Rajya Sabha members who have been elected to the Lok Sabha would make space for new people in the Upper House.

There isn’t, however, a single minister in the council from West Bengal, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. BJP couldn’t win any seat in Kerala, while it bagged two in Bengal, all four in Himachal and all five in Uttarakhand.

The most surprising omission was that of Rajasthan. The state that gave BJP all its 25 MPs got just one minister of state in Nihalchand Chauhan (elected from Ganganagar). Jammu & Kashmir was represented by Minister of State Jitender Singh, who defeated Ghulam Nabi Azad from Udhampur constituency.

For the record, only five of the nearly 30-ally-strong NDA have found space in this first round of swearing-in. Former Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio of the Nagaland People’s Front was another major omission.

Apart from Sena’s Geete, other Cabinet ministers from BJP’s allies in NDA are the Lok Janshakti Party’s Ramvilas Paswan (who is likely to get the food, civil supplies and consumer affairs portfolio), the Telugu Desam Party’s Ashok Gajapathi Raju (tipped to be the civil aviation minister) and the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal (who could be the food processing minister).

Seven woman members of Parliament — Sushma Swaraj, Maneka Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Uma Bharti, Najma Heptulla, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Nirmala Sitharaman — are among those named ministers. While Heptulla is the lone Muslim face, Badal is the only Sikh.

As for regional balance, as many as eight ministers are from UP, which sent 71 BJP MPs to the Lok Sabha. Four of them — Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti, Kalraj Mishra, and Maneka Gandhi — have got Cabinet rank.

Bihar’s Upendra Kushwaha (from the Rashstriya Loktantrik Samata Party) is a minister of state. Apna Dal, BJP’s UP ally that won two seats, hasn’t got a place in the Cabinet.

Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar communal riots of last year, is also a minister of state. Balyan is a Jat leader and his inclusion is believed to be aimed to please Western UP’s influential Jat community that left the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal to side with BJP.

Ministers from UP also include Manoj Sinha, who won from Ghazipur. The Bhumihar leader is believed to have played a key role in neutralising the influence of fellow Bhumihar Ajay Rai in Varanasi. Rai had contested the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket from Varanasi, from where Modi won. Santosh Gangwar, minister of state for petroleum in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, an other backward classes (OBC) leader, has been made a minister of state with independent charge.

There are four ministers from Madhya Pradesh, including Thaawar Chand Gehlot (a Dalit leader) and Sushma Swaraj. Swaraj, meanwhile, will equally be considered a candidate from Haryana, her state of birth. Others from Haryana in the Cabinet are Minister of State (independent charge) Rao Inderjit Singh and Minister of State Krishna Pal Gujjar. The former represents the state’s sizeable Yadav community, while the latter hails from an equally influential Gujjar community. The two could prove beneficial for BJP in the coming Haryana state election.

After UP, Maharashtra’s contingent of six is the biggest in the Council of Ministers. Three among them — Nitin Gadkari, Anant Geete and Gopinath Munde — are Cabinet ministers. Bihar, with four ministers, has the third-biggest representation.

Jual Oram (likely to become tribal affairs minister) and Dharmendra Pradhan (could be named minister of state with independent change for petroleum) represent Odisha, while Karnataka has only three ministers — Ananth Kumar, Sadanand Gowda and G M Siddeswara. Modi has kept the caste balance at an even keel here. Siddeswara, a Lingayat, has been included to reduce the influence of Vokkaliga leader B S Yeddyurappa.

Andhra Pradesh is represented by M Venkaiah Naidu, TDP’s Raju and BJP’s Nirmala Sitharaman. Both Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have one minister of state each. Goa’s Sripad Naik is a minister of state with independent charge and a rival of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. Sarbananda Sonowal represents Assam’s tea tribals, who are yet to get the scheduled tribe status, while Kiren Rijiju is from Arunachal Pradesh.

BJP sources said Tamil parties, which boycotted the swearing-in to protest the presence of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, should note that P Radhakrishnan was sworn in as a minister of state. He won the Kanyakumari seat for BJP and has been fighting for the rights of the fishermen affected by the Sri Lankan Navy’s surveillance.

Among caste groups, there are as many as 10 from OBCs, including Modi himself. But there isn’t a single Yadav from UP or Bihar — the largest community among OBCs which the party believes didn’t vote for it in either of the two states. The Cabinet has half a dozen Thakurs, led by Rajnath Singh, and an equal number of Brahmins. The dalits in the council are Paswan, Gehlot and Rajasthan’s Nihalchand. Scheduled Tribes are represented by Kiren Rijiju and Jual Oram.

The list of ministers had a notable omission in Amit Shah, indicating the Modi lieutenant was likely to devote his time to party affairs.

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