Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday inducted 12 new faces in his 43-month-old ministry. But what baffled many was the induction of a Sikh leader from Punjab as a full-fledged cabinet minister.
Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, whom Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav earlier gave a berth in the Rajya Sabha, was the surprise entry even for senior ministers who were seen asking each other about the background of the man from Punjab.
Ramoowalia was labour minister in the United Front government at the Centre headed by H D Deve Gowda. He started his political career way back in 1963 as a student leader and was also twice MP from Faridkot and Sangrur.
Over a decade back, he also floated his own party and named it as Lok Bhalai Party, but merged it with Akali Dal which he had joined four years back.
He lost during the 2015 assembly elections from Punjab when he contested from Mohali as an SAD candidate.
Ramoowalia also used to actively take up the cases of the women who were cheated and deserted by their NRI husbands.
Nether Mulayam not the chief minister were ready to take any questions with regard to the overhauling exercise undertaken by them just 17 months before UP goes to poll again in March 2017.
Keeping the media at a distance, both chose to maintain studied silence after the hour-long swearing in at Lucknow’s Raj Bhawan.
Ministers of state with independent charge Arvind Singh Gope and Kamal Akhtar have been elevated as cabinet ministers along with Vinod Kumar Singh alias Pandit Singh.
Besides Ramoowalia, Sahab Singh Saini is another new face to have found berth in the Cabinet. Shadab Fatima and Madan Chauhan are the new inductees to the rank of ministers of state (independent charge).
The reshuffle and expansion follows dropping of eight senior ministers by the chief minister two days ago. Besides portfolios of nine ministers were also also withdrawn on Thursday. Reallocation of portfolios was expected later this evening.
None of the axed ministers were rehabilitated in Saturday's exercise though some of them had approached Mulayam.
Riyaz Ahmed, Farid Mahmood Kidwai, Mool Chand Chauhan, Ram Sakal Gurjar, Nitin Agarwal and Yasser Shah who were ministers of state earlier, have been promoted to MOS with independent charge.
The ministers of state who were sworn in are Radhey Shayam Singh, Shailendra Yadav Lalai, Omkar Singh, Pawan Pandey, Sudhir Kumar Rawat, Laxmikant alias Pappu Nishad and Vanshidhar Baudh.
The ministers were sworn in by Governor Ram Naik, who added interesting colour to the event by making it a point to remind everyone who was being sworn in to shake hands with him at the end of the ritual. Some ministers, who tried to slip away without shaking hands with the Governor, were pointedly reminded by him to do so.
A faux pas also took place during the ceremony when Governor Naik got the National Anthem band to be interrupted so that he could administer the oath of 'Rashtriya Ekta Diwas' (National Unity Day) to mark the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Both the central and the state governments decided to declare his birthday as a public holiday.
Image: Akhilesh and Mulayam with the new ministers. Photograph: Sandeep Pal