Nirmala Sitharaman was on Sunday promoted and appointed as India’s Defence Minister in a surprise move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who elevated three others to the cabinet and brought in nine new faces including four former bureaucrats in a reshuffle-cum-expansion of his ministry based on performance.
Power Minister Piyush Goyal, also promoted from Minister of State with independent charge to the Cabinet, got the railways portfolio, from which Suresh Prabhu was shifted to Commerce and Industry that was with Sitharaman. Prabhu had offered to quit after a major rail accident in Uttar Pradesh claimed 23 lives last month.
The promoted ministers and the new faces were administered the oath of office and secrecy by President Ram Nath Kovind at a 35-minute ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, attended among others by new Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, Modi, BJP President Amit Shah, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and family members of the some new ministers.
Sitharaman became the second woman to head the Defence Ministry after Indira Gandhi when she was Prime Minister. The Defence Ministry was with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Reacting to her appointment, Sithraman said she felt very humbled and she cannot describe her recognition in words.
“The party and the Prime Minister have been very supportive. As an ordinary worker from the south (India), it’s a recognition by the party which overwhelms me,” she said.
In the third reshuffle of the ministry in three years, Nitin Gadkari, who held Road Transport and Highways and Shipping, also got the Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry that was taken away from Uma Bharti, who moved to Drinking Water and Sanitation. Earlier there was speculation that Uma Bharti could be dropped.
In all, six ministers resigned ahead of the reshuffle: Kalraj Mishra (Cabinet), Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Bandaru Dattatreya (MoS independent charge), Faggan Singh Kalaste, Sanjeev Balyan and Mahendra Nath Pandey.
Of the other two ministers promoted were Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who also got Skill Development and Entrepreneurship from Rudy. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also joins the Cabinet, retaining the Minority Affairs Ministry.
Among the four bureaucrats inducted into the government, three have been made Ministers of State with independent charge: former Home Secretary R.K. Singh, a Lok Sabha member from Bihar, got Power and New and Renewable Energy portfolios held by Goyal while former diplomat Hardeep Puri secured Housing and Urban Affairs.
“Demolition Man” K.J. Alphons has been made MOS with independent charge in Tourism and Electronics and IT ministries. Puri and Alphons are not MPs and will have to get elected to Parliament in six months. Alphons is the second BJP man from Kerala to get a place in the union ministry after party veteran O. Rajagopal who served under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Former Mumabi Police chief Satya Pal Singh got Human Resource Development, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation as Minister of State — held by Balyan. Both are from western Uttar Pradesh.
The other five new Ministers of State are Shiv Pratap Shukla (Finance), Ashwini Choubey (Health and Family Welfare), Virendra Kumar (Women and Child Development and Minority Affairs), Anantkumar Hegde (Skill Development and Entrepreneurship) and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Agriculture and Farmers Welfare).
Shukla, a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh, has served as cabinet minister in the state for eight years and is known for his work in rural development, education and prison reforms.
Virendra Kumar is a six-time Lok Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh. Hegde, a Lok Sabha MP from Uttara Kannada, is seen as a rabble-rouser, having won five elections. Assembly elections are due in Karnataka early next year and in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in the later part.
Shekhawat, a first time MP from Jodhpur in Rajasthan, is a techno savvy progressive farmer seen as a role model for the rural community.
Modi also utilized the opportunity to change some portfolios. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore got a promotion when he was given the portfolio of Youth Affairs and Sports with independence charge which was taken away from Vijay Goel.
Goel became MoS without independent charge and has been given portfolios of Parliamentary Affairs and Statistics and Programme Implementation. In addition to sports, he also held Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
S.S. Ahluwalia has been shifted from Parliamentary Affairs to Drinking Water and Sanitation under Uma Bharti.
Giriraj Singh, who was MoS in Micro, Small and Medium Entreprises Ministry, got full charge of the ministry after the resignation of Cabinet Minister Kalraj Mishra.
Another MoS who got elevated as independent charge was Santosh Gangwar, who was shifted from Finance to Labour and Employment after incumbent Bandaru Dattatreya resigned. The other MoS in Finance, Arjun Ram Meghwal, is now Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Water Resources.
Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma shed Tourism and got Environment, Forest and Climate Change but as MoS under Harsh Vardhan. P. Radhakrishnan, Minister of State in Shipping, lost Road Transport and Highways and got Finance.
Sunday’s exercise did not involve BJP allies Shiv Sena and Janata Dal-United or new friend AIADMK.
The strength of the Modi ministry now rose to 76 including the Prime Minister. Twenty-eight are in the Cabinet, 11 are of the rank of Ministers of State with independent charge and 37 are Ministers of State.