The 22 ministers were administered the oath of office and secrecy by President APJ Abdul Kalam at the Ashoka Hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday. Uttaranchal and Chhatisgarh have gone unrepresented in the Union Council of Ministers.
The swearing-in ceremony lasted for about an hour, and was attended by Dr Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition L K Advani and many others. Notable absentees included Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, Lokshakti Janata Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar -- all Congress allies. Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee was also not present. No representatives from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, another ally, were present either.
The new cabinet ministers are : Sushil Kumar Shinde, A R Antulay, Vayalar Ravi, Murli Deora, Ambika Soni, Saifuddin Soz and Shibu Soren. Santosh Mohan Deb, Prem Chand Gupta and Kapil Sibal have been elevated to the Cabinet rank.
Tamil Nadu Congress leader and son of the late G K Moopanar, G K Vasan took oath as Minister of State with Independent Charge.
The new Ministers of State are: Pawan Kumar Bansal, Subbirami Reddy, Anand Sharma, Ajay Maken, M Pallam Raju, Chandrasekhar Sahu, Akhilesh Das, Jairam Ramesh, Ashwini Kumar, Purandareswari Devi and Dinshaw Patel.
A major chunk of the new Cabinet ministers come from the Rajya Sabha, including Ambika Soni, Vayalar Ravi, Murli Deora, Saifuddin Soz and A R Antulay. Sushilkumar Shinde, who was the first to be sworn in, had tendered his resignation as governor of Andhra Pradesh only hours earlier. Tamil Nadu Congress leader G K Vasan, son of the late G K Moopanar, was given independent charge as minister of state while Pawan Kumar Bansal, K Subbirami Reddy, Anand Sharma, Ajay Maken, M M Pallamraju, Chandrasekhar Sahu, Akhil Das, Jairam Ramesh, Ashwani Kumar, Purandareshwari, the daughter of Telugu Desam founder N T Rama Rao, Dinshaw Patel from Panchmahal in Gujarat, were among those who were sworn in as ministers of state.
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Soren stages a comeback after a year. He had resigned as Coal Minister to become the Jharkhand chief minister after the February 2005 assembly elections in the state. He, however, had to quit the post following his inability to prove majority on the floor of the assembly.
Saifuddin Soz, a veteran leader from Kashmir, was a minister in the United Front government led by both H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral. He was recently inducted into the Congress Working Committee.
Vayalar Ravi seems to have been inducted into the Cabinet with an eye on the coming assembly elections in Kerala, which did not return even a single representative from the party to the Lok Sabha in the 2004 elections. One of the young leaders to be made CWC member at the age of 35, Ravi was Kerala's minister for home in the 1980s. He has been AICC general secretary and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief.
Santosh Mohan Deb, who was Minister of State (Independent) in charge of Heavy Industry and Water Resources, has been elevated to Cabinet rank, considering that his home state of Assam will also be among the five election-bound states in May this year.
Prem Chand Gupta, a confidant of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, has obviously been promoted to keep the RJD chief in good humour as he was cut up with the inglorious exit of his party colleague Jaiprakash Yadav from the ministry a few months ago. Gupta is currently holding charge of Company Affairs.
A suave and erudite Kapil Sibal has been promoted to the Cabinet rank to give due representation to the national Capital Delhi in the Union Cabinet.
Ambika Soni, a trusted aide of Mrs Gandhi,
P K Bansal, Lok Sabha member from Chandigarh, is a first timer in the Council of Ministers. He recently resigned as the chairman of the MPLADS probe committee following allegations that he had misused his own funds under the scheme. He has been the Chief Whip of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha and is heading the all-important Privileges Committee in the Lower House.
Purandareswari Devi is prominent among the new faces to get a berth in the ministry.
Ajay Maken, a former Speaker of the Delhi assembly and a minister in the Sheila Dikshit government, has been inducted into the Union Council of Ministers apparently to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Jagdish Tytler four months ago after the Nanavati Commission raised doubts about his involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
AICC Spokesman for a long time and a Rajya Sabha member from Himachal Pradesh, Anand Sharma, will have his maiden stint as a minister at the Centre. His induction takes care of non-representation from his home state in the Union Council of Ministers.
Chandrasekhar Sahu is a Congressman from Orissa, while Dr Akhilesh Das is the son of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Banarsi Das.
Heading the Economic cell of the AICC for quite some time, Jairam Ramesh is a versatile writer and speaker. He has been known to be a key advisor of the Congress chief on economic and financial policies.
Ashwini Kumar, a Rajya Sabha member from Punjab, is a leading lawyer. Dinshaw Patel is a well-known Congressman from Gujarat.
Talking to newsmen, Dr Singh said the criterion for selection of ministers was purely merit. Controversial Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren, who was removed from the Cabinet, makes a return, while Kapil Sibal along with two others has been elevated to Cabinet rank.
Rashtrapati Bhavan is likely to issue a formal notification later in the day about the distribution of portfolios. Talking to rediff.com, the prime minister's media adviser Dr Sanjay Baru, said Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi have been working on the Cabinet expansion for the last several days.
Before the swearing-in at Ashoka Hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan, Ambika Soni, who had a bad throat, was telling newsmen how she would miss her daily interaction with journalists at the party office. Jaipal Reddy jokingly remarked that by going in for a major Cabinet reshuffle the prime minister has taken away from the media the right to speculate on the subject. "I must have seen 20-odd stories in last six months about the reshuffle," he said as he walked past newsmen at Ashoka Hall.
United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition LK Advani were among those who were present during the swearing-in. Mrs Gandhi, in a significant comment, said those who were in the Youth Congress like Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma, have been rewarded. Partymen should take notice of this and work for the party, she said.
Later, talking to the media, the prime minister said on Iran's nuclear plans, which comes up at the IAEA board of governors meeting this week, a decision will be taken by keeping the national interest in mind. On the Left's opposition to hiking the FDI ceiling in some sectors, he said things woud be amicably settled.
Dr Singh said the external affairs portfolio, which is currently under his charge, would be settled in due course, leaving room for speculation that one of the new ministers could be given charge.
Former minister for NRI affairs Oscar Fernandes, who is a minister without portfolio, is expected to return to the Congress party to fill the gap left by the induction of Ambika Soni.
Additional reportage: UNI