The much awaited expansion of the Nitish Kumar cabinet in Bihar took place on Tuesday with the induction of 17 members, including Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, the high-profile Muslim face of the Bharatiya Janata Party which walked away with the lion’s share.
The former union minister and party national spokesman, who got elected to the legislative council in a surprise move last month, was the first to be administered oath of office by Governor Phagu Chauhan.
He was among nine inductees from the quota of the BJP which now has 20 members in the state cabinet.
The chief minister’s Janata Dal-United, which has suffered diminution in clout because of its poor performance in assembly polls, settled for eight and has been left with 12 members in the cabinet.
As per norms, the state cabinet can have up to 36 members including the chief minister.
With the expansion cabinet strength has risen to 34. One member each was inducted from the quotas of smaller allies Hindustani Awam Morcha and Vikassheel Insaan Party when the cabinet was formed in November last.
"Decision about the allocation of portfolios has been taken. You all will get to know about the same once the notification is issued", the chief minister told reporters, smilingly, after the ceremony.
With the exception of Pramod Kumar who held key portfolios in the previous government, the BJP placed its trust in "fresh faces".
Other BJP leaders who took oath were Nitin Nabin, Samrat Chaudhary, Neeraj Kumar Singh "Bablu", Janak Ram, Subhash Singh, Alok Ranjan Jha and Narayan Prasad.
The JD-U gave preference to experienced hands though there were also a handful of debutants, including Zama Khan who got elected on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket but joined the party recently, and Independent MLA Sumit Singh who has pledged full support to the chief minister.
Others from the JD-U who took oath included Sanjay Kumar Jha and Shravan Kumar, both known to be trusted aides of the chief minister who held key portfolios in the previous government.
JD-U leaders Madan Sahni and Lesi Singh also returned as ministers.
Sunil Kumar, a former IPS officer who joined the JD-U last year shortly after retiring from DG rank, and Jayant Raj, a 35-year-old who is among the youngest party MLAs, have also been given ministerial berths.
Sunil Kumar is an alumni of St Stephen's College, Delhi.
Lesi Singh’s induction has raised the number of women in the cabinet to three. Earlier, BJPs Renu Devi and JD-U’s Sheela Mandal had been sworn in and the former was elevated as a deputy CM.
The National Democratic Alliance had been facing flak from the Opposition over the absence of a Muslim in the cabinet. With the induction of Hussain and Khan, it now has ammunition in its armour to
counter the charge.
Shahnawaz Hussain took the oath in Urdu, Sanjay Jha did so in Maithili language while others chose Hindi at the swearing-in.
The first-time minister Neeraj Kumar Singh "Bablu" is a cousin of deceased Bollywood film actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
Nitin Nabin, the four times MLA from Bankipore constituency in capital Patna, had defeated Luv Sinha, son of actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha in the recently concluded polls.