Update: Nirmala Sitharaman, the former Minister of State for Commerce and BJP spokesperson, who was elevated today to the rank of a full cabinet minister, is the new Defence Minister. Sitharaman is India's second woman Defence Minister after Indira Gandhi.
Update: Piyush Goyal, the former Minister of State for Power, who was elevated today to the rank of a full cabinet minister, has been given the Railways portfolio. Goyal replaces Suresh Prabhu.
In what could be the final cabinet reshuffle before the 2019 general election, nine new ministers, representing various professional and social backgrounds, were inducted into the Narendra Modi government today.
The nine ministers, comprising three former bureaucrats, one top cop and BJP lawmakers from five states, indicate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has focused on administrative experience in making his choice, while also keeping in mind the Bharatiya Janata Party's interests in the upcoming state polls.
The nine new Ministers of State (MoS) were sworn-in by President Ram Kumar Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday morning.
They include retired diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri, who served as India's ambassador to the United Nations, KJ Alphons, a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Satya Pal Singh, former Mumbai police chief who represents BJP in the Rajya Sabha, and RK Singh, former Home Secretary and a Lok Sabha lawmaker for the BJP, representing the constituency of Arrah in Bihar.
The others are Shiv Pratap Shukla from Uttar Pradesh, Anant Kumar Hegde from Karnataka, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat from Rajasthan, Ashwini Kumar Choubey from Bihar and Virendra Kumar from Madhya Pradesh. While Shukla is a Rajya Sabha lawmaker, Hegde, Shekhawat, Choubey and Kumar are Lok Sabha MPs.
Puri, who served in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), and Alphons are the only two among the nine ministers who are not parliamentarians at present.
The new faces include a Christian (Alphons), a Sikh (Puri), a Dalit (Kumar), three Brahmins (Shukla and Choubey and Hegde). Hegde, the lawmaker from Uttara Kannada, is also a Hindutva firebrand who had once called for the end of Islam. Read HuffPost India's interview with him.
Out of the five states in the mix today, it is noteworthy that Rajasthan, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh will head to the polls over the course of the next two years.
Four ministers of the Modi government were also elevated to full cabinet ministers: Piyush Goyal, who served as the Minister of State for Power, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of State for Petroleum & Natural Gas.
Earlier this week, six ministers resigned to make way for the new crop. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reportedly not entirely satisfied with their performance.
The cabinet also had two vacancies after M Venkaiah Naidu exited to become Vice President and following the death of Anil Madhav Dave, who had served as the environment minister.
The announcement of a new defence minister is anticipated. After Manohar Parrikar became the chief minister of Goa, earlier this year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was assigned the defence portfolio.
It was widely expected that the reshuffle would include lawmakers from the Janata Dal United JD(U) led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who recently came out in favour of the BJP after breaking his alliance with the Congress Party and Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
The BJP's two other allies, Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam Party, have also not been included in the revised cabinet.
On Saturday, Kumar said, "There was no such talks of the JD(U) joining the Union Cabinet. No talks were held on the issue."
On Saturday, Shiv Sena party chief Uddhav Thackeray said, "I have got news about the cabinet expansion only from media. I have not enquired about it (from the central BJP leadership). I have neither received any communication from anybody nor are we hungry for power."
Shiva Sena, which has one seat in the cabinet, had reportedly objected to JD(U) being offered two seats. In the end, neither party could be accommodated. Shiv Sena's only minister at the Centre, Anant Geete, did not attend the swearing-in ceremony today.
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