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Manmohan Singh is India''s PM again; 19 others in A-team
New Delhi, May 22 (IANS)
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Published on 23 May. 2009 1:23 AM IST
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday took oath along with 19 cabinet colleagues to begin a second five-year term at the head of a multi-party government in which his Congress party is the overwhelmingly dominant partner after a sweeping win in India's general elections. He is only the second prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to have a second innings after a successful five-year term. There were four new faces in the first edition of the union cabinet that is expected to be followed up by another expansion of the council of ministers in the next few days. All the others were in the outgoing cabinet. All but two were from the Congress party. Overseen by President Pratibha Patil, Manmohan Singh, 76, was the first to take oath at a 45-minute function at the ornate Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential mansion. This is the first time she has administered the oath of office. In the front rows of the ceremony was a sombre-looking L.K. Advani, who was the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Also present were Congress president and ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Vice President Hamid Ansari, former prime minister I.K. Gujral and Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M. Among the new entrants in the cabinet are Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress leader who trounced the Communists in West Bengal, Rajasthan Congress unit president C.P. Joshi, Congress general secretary M. Veerappa Moily and former Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna. The portfolios were not announced but speculation centred around two names as the next foreign minister -- Kamal Nath, who has been a successful commerce and industry minister and who led the developing nations' charge in the WTO negotiations; and Krishna, who was in many ways responsible for making Bangalore the country's IT capital. Pranab Mukherjee, who was external affairs minister in the last cabinet, is widely tipped to become finance minister, a portfolio he held 25 years ago, while Chidambaram and Antony are likely to retain their respective portfolios of home and defence. The prime minister's A-team comprises Pranab Mukherjee, Chidambaram, Antony, Krishna, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Veerappa Moily, S. Jaipal Reddy, Kamal Nath, Vayalar Ravi, Meira Kumar, Murli Deora, Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, B.K. Handique, Anand Sharma and Joshi. Besides Mamata Banerjee, the other non-Congress leader who found cabinet berth was Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. Performance, experience and continuity have been the important criteria that have gone into the making of Manmohan Singh's new cabinet, say party insiders. The prime minister has already chalked out a 100-day action plan for his government. "In the case of Moily and Ghulam Nabi Azad, they served the party well and were also instrumental in notching up impressive victories in key states," said a senior Congress functionary. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said the second round of oath taking will cover include cabinet ministers, ministers of state with independent charge and ministers of state with representation given to allies. Anand Sharma, who earlier was a minister of state for external affairs and also held independent charge of the information and broadcasting ministry after Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi was hospitalised with a stroke, was promoted to cabinet rank. So was Bijoy Krishna Handique, who is from Assam and was the minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers and parliamentary affairs. Heavyweight Arjun Singh has been dropped from the cabinet, and not just because of his poor health. Some of his decisions as human resource development minister have been questioned and he has been accused of sitting over important decisions in the field of higher education, a subject close to the prime minister's heart. Arjun Singh is likely to be made a state governor. Mamata Banerjee is likely to get railways, a portfolio she has held earlier in the cabinet of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while Pawar is set to retain his food and agriculture portfolio. Among the 19 who took oath were three women - Mamata Banerjee, Ambika Soni and Meira Kumar. Barring four, all the ministers took oath in English. "I am happy that both the prime minister and the Congress president have recognised my work and that I discharged my work creditably," said Vayalar Ravi, who held both parliamentary affairs and the overseas Indian affairs ministries. Joshi, who turned the fortunes around for the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan by leading the praty to victory in 19 of its 25 seats, admitted he was surprised to get a cabinet berth. "I am humbled and thank the party leadership for reposing faith in me." After the initial breakdown of talks with the DMK on the distribution of ministerial portfolios, crisis managers in the Congress thought it would be best to go ahead with the first round of oath taking where sure-shot cabinet ministers would be included. But political sources said the crisis got sorted out shortly before the oath-taking ceremony and the DMK is likely to get three cabinet portfolios and a few ministers of state (junior minister) positions. Those expected to be inducted in the second round include Salman Khurshid, Jairam Ramesh, Girija Vyas and Vilas Muttemwar of the Congress, M.K. Azhagiri, K. Kanimozhi, Dayanadhi Maran of the DMK and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah.

 
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