Amit Shah gets home, Jaishankar given foreign ministry as Modi announces new cabinet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the first cabinet meeting of his second term, June 1. (Narendra Modi Facebook photo) 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi named a 57-member cabinet May 31, handing the powerful home affairs portfolio to Amit Shah, president of his Hindu nationalist BJP who is credited with delivering him the thunderous re-election.

A day after being sworn in along with his council of ministers by President Ram Nath Kovind, the prime minister named Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the former ambassador to the United States, the external affairs minister and put his first-term defense minister Nirmala Sitharamanin charge of finance. Modi gave former home minister Rajnath Singh the defense portfolio.

The previous finance minister, Arun Jaitley, had written to Modi asking not to be considered for a ministerial position due to ill health.

According to press information bureau, Modi was sworn in for a second term as prime minister a day before on May 30, along with 24 cabinet-rank ministers and more than 30 deputy ministers. The prime minister himself will also oversee the departments of atomic energy and space and "all important policy issues.”

Shah masterminded the BJP's landslide victory in the April-May general elections, in which the party won 303 of the 542 seats in the lower house of parliament. News reports said Shah's appointment only formalizes what has long been talked about  the 54-year-old BJP president is the most influential politician in the party after Modi. Shah will now have to pursue Modi's nationalist agenda on security, immigration and other key national issues.

Facing major challenges with the economy, job creation and a farm debt crisis, Modi replaced around three dozen ministers and deputy ministers from the last administration, bringing in many new MPs.

The appointment of Jaishankar, who took over from BJP veteran Sushma Swaraj who stepped aside due to poor health, was seen as a sign that Modi will put more emphasis on tricky diplomacy with neighboring countries in his second term.

Although his appointment came as somewhat of a surprise pick to some as he has been a career diplomat and not a politician, Jaishankar is regarded a close aide of Modi and has been hailed in the past as his 'crisis manager' in matters of foreign affairs.

Jaishankar, who was the top foreign ministry official until his retirement last year, was an influential adviser to Modi on diplomacy during his first five years in power.

News 18 reported that for long, Jaishankar has been considered Modi’s man Friday when it comes to foreign policy and strategic affairs.

It quoted sources as saying that Modi’s relation with Jaishankar goes back to the time when the former was the Gujarat chief minister. During his visit to China as chief minister, Modi had met Jaishankar, who was the then Indian ambassador to China, on several occasions. Modi had come to know of his work over various discussions and meetings.

One of the most significant investments that China made in India during Jaishankar’s time as ambassador came in the form of an agreement with Tebian Electric Apparatus for a plant in Gujarat.

A graduate of St Stephen’s College at the University of Delhi, Jaishankar has an MA degree in political science and an M. Phil and PhD in international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is from the 1977 IFS batch.

Reports said both Shah and Jaishanka rimmediately also became members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, the most powerful Cabinet sub-committee.

Giant killer Smriti Irani, who defeated Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi was given the charge as Minister of Women and Child Development; and Minister of Textiles in Modi Cabinet  an apparent reward for her historic victory over Gandhi.

At its first meeting on May 31, the Cabinet cleared proposals to extend the Rs.6000 per anum income support scheme to all land-owning farm families, create contributory pension schemes for small farmers and traders on the lines of the existing scheme for unorganized sector workers and control and ultimately eradicate foot and mouth disease among livestock, according to a report in Hindu.

Earlier on May 30, as the sun set over the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Modi along with his council of ministers was sworn in for a second successive term to lead the nation in the presence of about 8,000 guests who packed into the forecourt of the historic British-era presidential palace.

As President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath of office to Modi in an hour-long ceremony marked with pomp and grandeur, the dusk slipped into night and the Rashtrapati Bhavan dome lit up in the tricolor.

Among those present at the ceremony were former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former president Pratibha Patil, veteran BJP leader L K Advani.Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, who is said to be adamant on his decision to quit office after his party's debacle in the hustings,attended with his mother, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

According to news reports, leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries, including Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, President of Myanmar U Win Myint and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering attended the gala event as did Kyrgyz President and current chair of Shanghai Cooperation Organization Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.

Among the business and industry tycoons present, included Reliance Industry's Mukesh Ambani, veteran industry leader Ratan Tata, steel baron L N Mittal and Adani Group head Gautam Adani, representing the who's who of corporate India.

Not to be left behind, showbiz stars, including those who were voted into power like Hema Malini and others like cine star Rajinikanth, filmmaker Karan Johar, Shahid Kapoor, Boney Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut as well as Sidharth Roy Kapur, president of the Film and Television Producers Guild of India and Vivek Oberoi, Anupam Kher, Madhur Bhandarkar and Boney Kapoor were part of the event, Live Mint quoting Press Trust of India, said.

“This evening marks a new chapter in India’s onward march as a nation. I wish Prime Minister Narendra Modi every success as he takes on his high responsibility in the service of our people. And once again, I thank you for your august presence. May our nations prosper forever –and may we prosper together,” Kovind said, according to a PIB press release.

Modi also set up a new ministry of water power in keeping with his promise to make safe drinking water a priority for his government.

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