Manmohan Singh, 76, took charge as prime minister for a second term on Friday with 19 cabinet ministers, showing a subtle generational shift that will get clearer in the next tranche of appointments likely next week.
The portfolios will also be announced later. The council of ministers will be expanded on Tuesday, by which time the Congress expects to sort out its differences with ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The DMK has problems with the power-sharing formula.
Leaders from other allied parties — Sharad Pawar, 68, of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Mamata Banerjee, 54 — were among those sworn in.
The estranged allies such as Lalu Prasad, 61, Amar Singh, 53, Mulayam Singh Yadav, 69, and Ram Vilas Paswan, 62, were present. The SP and the RJD are supporting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government from outside.
After taking the oath of office in Ashoka Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Singh walked to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, 62, and greeted her as the audience, comprising leaders from across the political spectrum, applauded.
Rahul Gandhi, 38, who played a key role in Congress’s victory, but chose not join the government, was also there. As were BJP leader L.K. Advani, 81, and CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechury, 56.
After talks with the DMK failed on Thursday night, the Congress decided to stagger the formation of the new council of ministers. Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and senior leader Ahmad Patel, 59, worked late into the night to get the right mix of loyalty, performance and potential.
Hours before the swearing in, the PMO, in a departure from the past, released the list of inductees, robbing the exercise of the element of surprise.
The demographic profile of the new cabinet indicates a calibrated generational shift in the Congress. While retaining the veterans, barring a few like Arjun Singh, 78, the party has promoted a new set of people as first-league cabinet ministers.
The expansion next week will give full shape to this process, as several fresh faces are likely to be inducted as ministers of state and a few more relatively younger leaders may make it into the cabinet.
Arjun Singh, H.R. Bharadwaj, A.R. Antulay, 80, Saifuddin Soz, 71, and Sis Ram Ola, 81, have not returned to the cabinet. Congress sources, however, did not completely rule out Bharadwaj’s induction in the next expansion. Anand Sharma (55) got a cabinet berth while Kapil Sibal (60), who was in the previous cabinet also, returned with a higher profile.
A breed of leaders who were youth leaders of the party from 1970s has now emerged as the first league ministers of the Congress. This includes three former Indian Youth Congress presidents: Ambika Soni, 65, Ghulam Nabi Azad, 60, and Anand Sharma. P. Chidambaram, 63, Kamal Nath, 62, A.K. Antony, 68, and Vayalar Ravi, 72, also came up in politics through the student and youth wings of the Congress. Even Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee have come up through the Youth Congress.
Congress general secretary Mukul Wasnik said, “The cabinet formation is a message to youngsters that they should be consistent and perform. Only then they will be rewarded.” Wasnik was president of the NSUI and later of the IYC.
The choice of veterans did not surprise anyone. Pranab Mukherjee remains a pillar of strength for the PM and A.K. Antony, P. Chidambaram, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal and Murli Deora, 72, are all rated highly.
The formation of the new cabinet also marks the return of Ghulam Nabi Azad into the team. He was a minister in the Manmohan Singh government before being sent as chief minister to J&K where he excelled, barring the slip-up on the Amarnath yatra issue.