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Back to business: From Amit Shah to Ashwini Vaishnaw, ministers take charge

A few ministers took charge after paying obeisance to Ganesha, while others plunged straight into business, familiar with the ministries they had headed


Office Time: (Clockwise) Amit Shah takes charge as Union home minister; S Jaishankar starts his second stint as minister for external affairs; Ashwini Vaishnaw assumes charge as minister for electronics & IT, Railways, and information & broadcasting, in New Delhi on Tuesday Photos: PTI

BS Reporters New Delhi
The staid corridors of Shastri Bhawan, home to various Union ministries, were a riot of colour on Tuesday. The sombre building resembled a flower market, packed as it was with bouquets for the men and women of the moment: the newly sworn-in ministers who were taking charge today.

As they assumed office, some came with families in tow — parents, children, grandchildren. A few took charge after paying obeisance to Ganesha, the god of auspicious beginnings, while others plunged straight into business, familiar with the ministries they had headed in the last government as well. 

Two power cuts in the Shram Shakti Bhawan, which houses the power ministry, interrupted the celebrations and triggered a series of jokes amongst the crowd gathered to greet the new power minister, Manohar Lal Khattar. 

Close aides from Khattar’s home state, Haryana, to heads of some of India’s largest public sector power companies had lined up with flowers from the entry gate to the second floor of the building. Khattar arrived, declined to speak to the media or issue any statement, and moved to the conference room for a meet-and-greet, after which the secretary and other senior officials of the power ministry briefed him. 

The session lasted over an hour.

Throughout the Lok Sabha election, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders like Khattar had described themselves as “Modi ka Parivar” on their social media handles. On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “With the message of all of us being one family having been effectively conveyed, I … request that you may now remove 'Modi Ka Parivar' from your social media properties.”
Tuesday overall was a busy day, perhaps more so for Ashwini Vaishnaw, the minister with one of the heaviest mix of portfolios. Vaishnaw had to wrap his day up in a hurry with a morning trip scheduled for Bhubaneswar, Odisha, where the BJP has made a strong mark after winning the Assembly elections.

Entrusted with the ministries of Railways, electronics and information technology (MeitY), and information and broadcasting, after previously having handled telecom, he started his day early and took charge at Rail Bhawan (the railway ministry headquarters) at 8 am. He then proceeded to quickly wrap up his charge-taking ceremony at the other ministries, including MeitY, which is housed at Electronics Niketan, opposite the CBI headquarters.

With most of his close aides in the Railways intact, railway insiders expect business to go on as usual. One official said that the minister had also briefed officials in the recent past to ensure policy continuity.

The under-renovation rail headquarters also played host to Minister of State (MoS) Ravneet Singh, who was accompanied by his family. Singh got the position despite having lost the election from Ludhiana.

At MeitY, MoS Jitin Prasada, a first-timer at IT, was briefed about the ministry’s initiatives and schemes for over an hour. His office had hundreds of political visitors, some of whom chanted party slogans.

The mood at Krishi Bhawan was also cheerful as Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the long-standing chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, assumed office as minister of agriculture and rural development. Following his late-night appointment, Chouhan promptly held meetings with top secretaries and announced the release of the 17th instalment of PM-Kisan Nidhi, demonstrating the government's dedication to farmers' welfare.

Later in the day, Chouhan took responsibility for the rural development ministry, preceded by a ceremonial puja, with his deputy Bhagirath Choudhary also assuming charge after a similar ritual. Chouhan visited the integrated command and control centre at the agriculture ministry to assess the crop situation and monsoon status. He also personally met the cleaning staff and enquired about their well-being. Dharmendra, a peon, expressed his surprise and delight at the new minister's approach.

Nirmala Sitharaman, who is back as finance minister, and Nitin Gadkari, who remains transport minister, did not take charge today.  

Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, beginning his second consecutive term, pledged to enhance India's security efforts and strengthen the country against terrorism, insurgency, and Naxalism. Before assuming office, the 59-year-old paid homage to fallen policemen at the National Police Memorial in Chanakyapuri.

And, after beginning his second term as External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar emphasised "Bharat First" and "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" as guiding principles of India's foreign policy. He noted that India will focus on resolving remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. To a question on the new government's approach towards China and Pakistan, he said, “…they are different countries and our relations with them too are different; the problems there are also different."

Taking charge as defence minister again, Rajnath Singh listed Agnipath and modernisation as key focus areas.

Piyush Goyal and MoS Jiten Prasada, after taking charge of the commerce and industry ministry, met with bureaucrats and key industry officials on India's trade and industry policy. They reviewed the ministry's existing policies and priorities, focusing on the 100-day agenda.

Over at Nirman Bhawan, as he began his term as Union health minister, BJP national president Jagat Prakash Nadda allowed only photo and video journalists into his office, where a pandit marked the occasion. Nadda then interacted with senior health ministry officials, including Health Secretary Apurva Chandra and Ministers of State Anupriya Patel and Prataprao Ganpatrao Jadhav, to review ongoing projects and future plans.

Later, Nadda took charge as chemicals and fertilisers minister at Shastri Bhawan, replacing Mansukh Mandaviya, who moved to labour and employment, and sports. Nadda's agenda may include expanding the Ayushman Bharat scheme to cover all citizens over 75 and transgender individuals (a BJP manifesto promise), and promoting good manufacturing practices and ethical drug marketing under the revised Schedule M and the Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices.

Over at Sanchar Bhawan, Jyotiraditya Scindia assumed office at telecom ministry with a crowded, media-filled event. Crowd control measures had to be employed once it became evident that the minister planned to perform a puja in his office before taking charge. 

It was a packed house at Shastri Bhawan as well, where numerous visitors, including Republican Party of India members, turned up to meet Ramdas Athawale as he took over as MoS for social justice and empowerment. A large group carrying placards with Athawale's picture waited to be let in.

Two first-time ministers, meanwhile, remarked humorously on the need to renovate Shastri Bhawan's corridors and facade. One joked that this would be his first agenda.

Arjun Ram Meghwal, the new law minister whose ministry is also in Shastri Bhawan, focused on the task at hand, discussing, among other things, the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Previously MoS law and justice, Meghwal came wearing a cream Nehru jacket over a white kurta-pyjama and his signature saffron-and-green striped turban.

He took questions about the judicial accountability Bill, UCC, new criminal laws, and the ministry's 100-day agenda. Asked about the UCC, he quipped, “Didn’t you read our (BJP) manifesto?” Along with bouquets and a money plant, the law minister received a crimson copy of the Indian Constitution. 

As his first task, Meghwal signed the National Litigation Policy document to reduce case pendency in various courts.

Over at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution at Krishi Bhawan, the scent of sandalwood wafted through the corridors as Pralhad Joshi assumed charge.

Flanked by his family – wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter – Joshi offered prayers to goddess Lakshmi before taking over. Fellow MP from Karnataka, Tejasvi Surya, also joined in the puja ceremony.

As Joshi sat on the minister’s chair, predecessor Piyush Goyal reminded him of the ritual of passing over the baton. Smiling, Joshi sat down briefly, before getting back up again to greet the sea of officials and well-wishers thronging his chambers.

Swarmed with colourful bouquets – from purple orchids to white tulips – he addressed the media, before heading to his second office in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

H D Kumaraswamy, the Janata Dal (Secular) state president and MP from Mandya, arrived at Udyog Bhawan in the evening to commence his tenure as the head of the heavy industries and steel ministries. Accompanied by over 200 supporters and 30 reporters from Karnataka, the former two-time chief minister assumed his new responsibilities with a pledge to work not only for the progress of Karnataka but for the entire nation, marking his debut as Union Cabinet minister.

Union minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and MoS Shobha Karandlaje assumed their roles in the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises with a pledge to bolster the sector's contribution to India's economy. Manjhi vowed to align with the vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat, focusing on MSMEs. 

Meanwhile, Jayant Chaudhary took charge of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, stressing the need for skill enhancement in India's burgeoning young population. He outlined plans for revitalising Industrial Training Institutes nationwide, emphasising digital integration, infrastructure enhancement, and inclusive skill training. 

On the bustling floor of Shram Shakti Bhawan, the Ministry of Jal Shakti teemed with anticipation. While the Indian power sector's heavyweights gathered to greet Khattar, the fervour for Jal Shakti drowned all else. Over 100 people, adorned, eager and predominantly Gujarat-based, sought the room of the Jal Shakti minister, C R Patil. 

Deeply religious, Pralhad Joshi continued with his practice of invoking the gods before taking charge at MNRE. As his toddler granddaughter got restless with the crowd, Joshi’s wife took her aside to show her the view from the eighth floor of Akshay Urja Bhawan – a newly built state-of-the-art green building for MNRE.

For the new ministers, today was a day for family, friends and supporters. Tomorrow, it will be back to business.

Ashutosh Mishra, Shreya Nandi, Shreya Jai, Sanjeeb Mukherjee, Sanket Koul, Subhayan Chakraborty, Bhavini Mishra, Akshara Srivastava, Harsh Kumar, Shiva Rajora & Nitin Kumar contributed to this report

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First Published: Jun 11 2024 | 11:15 PM IST

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