Manmohan Singh sworn in as PM
New Delhi, May 22
The 76-year-old mild-mannered Sikh, who won the hearts and minds of the people along with Sonia Gandhi, led the UPA to a handsome win in the Lok Sabha elections, was administered the oath of office by President Pratibha Patil at the glittering Ashoka Hall of the Rashtrapati
Victor and vanquished sat together at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet. Putting behind his sharp exchanges with Manmohan Singh during the election campaign, BJP leader LK Advani was among those seated in the front row with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former PM IK Gujral, CPM leader Sitaram Yechuri, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh
Manmohan Singh deliberately chose May 22 for the swearing-in ceremony because it was on this day in 2004 that he had begun his first term by ascending on the hot, but the most powerful seat in the country.
A close look at the new cabinet clearly suggests that Manmohan virtually got a free hand from the Congress leadership to choose his team. Stability being the ‘mantra’ of the new government in these times of deepening economic crisis, the PM has carefully selected each and ever new minister, giving due weightage to performance, experience and loyalty to the party. The team comprises several stalwarts as also a few first timers.
The new cabinet ministers are: Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, AK Antony, P Chidambaram, Mamata Banerjee, SM Krishna, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sushil Kumar Shinde, M Veerappa Moily, S Jaipal Reddy, Kamal Nath, Vayalar Ravi, Mrs Meira Kumar, Murli Deora, Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, B K Handique, Anand Sharma and CP Joshi.
The portfolios of the new ministers are likely to be announced on Monday. Several fresh faces, particularly newly-elected young Congress MPs, are likely to find berths in the new ministry when it is expanded, possibly on Tuesday.
Octogenarian leader Arjun Singh, as expected, has not found a place in the new team. A surprise omission is HR Bhardwaj, who was the Law, Justice and company Affairs Minister in the last government.
In the new cabinet, Sharad Pawar belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Mamata represents the Trinamool Congress, while all other ministers are from the Congress.
Among the new entrants are CP Joshi, Veerappa Moily and S M Krishna. Both Moily and Krishna have been the CMs of Karnataka, while Joshi is from Rajasthan.
The cabinet has a fair representation from the Rajya Sabha as well. Besides the PM, there are as many as 8 members from the Upper House in the ministry. However, Krishna’s inclusion has raised many an eyebrow since the Congress had not done well in Karnataka not only in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections but in the assembly polls last year also. Moily finds a place in the Cabinet as the PM was quite impressed with the report of the Administrative Reforms Commission prepared by him.
Pranab Mukherjee, the main trouble-shooter of the UPA government during its first term, is widely expected to be get the Finance portfolio. Antony is likely to retain Defence and Chidambaram will in all likelihood again be the Home Minister. However, suspense prevails on who would be the new External Affairs Minister. It is perhaps a toss-up between Kamal Nath and Krishna. Kamal Nath, the Lok Sabha member from Chhindwara, had successfully led the developing countries’ campaign at the WTO negotiations for which he earned kudos all around.
However, several Congress circles were surprised why no representation had been given to Uttar Pradesh in the first round of cabinet-making though the party has done far beyond its own expectations in electorally the most important state. There is also only one representative from Andhra Pradesh (Jaipal Reddy) though there also the Congress surprised everyone with a handsome tally. Both Antony and Ravi, the ministers from Kerala are Rajya Sabha members, while it is also another state where the Congress did exceedingly well, storming several Left bastions.
Anand Sharma and Handique are the two ministers in the last government who have been elevated to the cabinet rank. An articulate Congressman from Himachal Pradesh, Sharma was the Minister of State for External Affairs, who was last year also given the independent charge of the Information and Braodcasting Ministry after Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi’s hospitalisation. Sharma may get I&B portfolio. Handique was the MoS for chemicals and fertilisers in the last ministry.