In the first cabinet expansion exercise after assuming power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted 21 ministers into his council on Sunday in a move that strikes regional balance at the Centre and is expected to bring technocratic expertise into the government.
The much-awaited expansion is also expected to give a big push to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh -- with an eye on elections -- and rewarded Maharashtra and Haryana for delivering decisive victories for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent assembly polls.
Portfolios of the ministers who took the oath of office at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday, however, were not announced till the filing of the report.
The cabinet ministers sworn in on Sunday were: former Goa chief minister Manohar Parikkar, who is tipped to get the defence ministry; BJP vice-president JP Nadda, a leader from Himachal Pradesh who has long experience in organisational politics; and Birendra Singh, who had joined the BJP from the Congress ahead of the Haryana assembly elections.
The fourth in the list was Shiv Sena's Suresh Prabhu. He joined the BJP hours before the ceremony.
Even though Sena's pick, Anil Desai, decided to skip the event - apparently over differences with the BJP in ministerial berth allocation in Maharashtra, that did not hurt Prabhu's prospects.
Prabhu has the reputation of being an efficient minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has also worked closely with Modi during the Lok Sabha election campaign, and is the PM's Sherpa for the upcoming G20- summit in Australia.
There were reports in Maharashtra political circles that Modi wanted him at the Centre despite the logjam in ties between the two former allies -- the Sena and the BJP -- ahead of last month's assembly elections in Maharashtra.
Of the 21 ministers, three took oath as ministers of state (independent charge). The remaining 14 were sworn in as MoS.
The strength of the ministry now stands at 66, including the PM. The legal limit for ministers in council is 82. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II regime had 78 ministers.
The average age of the council of ministers in the NDA government is now 59, compared to 73 under the previous UPA era. Women, Muslim, and South Indian representation, however, remains limited in the government.
The MoS (independent charge) administered oath were: Bandaru Dattatreya, a BJP MP from Telangana, and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a senior leader from Bihar. Dr Mahesh Sharma, a first-time MP from Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida) constituency who owns a chain of hospitals, is the third and final name in the list.
Rudy tweeted, "It is a privilege to be a part of PM Modi's cabinet as a MoS (Independent Charge) to serve the Nation." Rudy, the party's Maharashtra-in-charge, is credited with scripting its victory in the recent state polls.
Among the MoS, some prominent names were: Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the party's face in the media and a Muslim leader from UP, and Jayant Sinha, son of BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and a first-time MP from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. A graduate of the Harvard Business School, he is tipped to be a junior finance minister.
Bihar, which already had three cabinet ministers and a minister of state, got three more representatives in the council: former Lalu Prasad Yadav aide Ram Kripal Yadav, the parliamentarian from Patliputra, vocal Modi supporter Giriraj Singh and Rudy.
A Modi loyalist even during his time as a minister in the Nitish Kumar government, Singh had faced flak in the run-up to the April-May general elections for saying those who did not want Modi could go to Pakistan.
Bihar goes to poll in September-October next year and the BJP faces a JD(U)-RJD-Congress super alliance there.
UP also got four berths. Alongside Naqvi and Gautam Buddh Nagar MP Sharma, Fatehpur MP Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Agra MP Ram Shankar joined the cabinet.
Besides Modi, the Varanasi MP, the council of ministers had four cabinet ministers and MoS each from the country's most populous state before Sunday's expansion. The BJP-Apna Dal alliance had won 73 of its 80 seats in the general elections and is aiming to wrest power from the Samajwadi Party in the 2017 assembly polls.
The picks from Rajasthan were Rajyavardhan Rathore, an Olympic medalist, and Sanwar Lal Jat, who had defeated Congress' Sachin Pilot in Ajmer in the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP, which is trying to find a foothold in West Bengal, also brought in popular singer and first-time MP Babul Supriyo as an MoS. Hansraj Ahir, who had played a key role in bringing the coal scam to public attention, was also rewarded with a position in the council.
“I had to lie to the media that I got to know about it (being made minister) from newspapers. PM called early morning to say I should have breakfast with him and then I should head to Rashtrapati Bhavan," Supriyo, an MP from Asansol in Bengal, said.
Meanwhile, there was high drama over Shiv Sena leader Anil Desai's participation in the event.
Reports said early Sunday the Sena, which is locked in a tug of war with former ally BJP over share of ministerial berths in Maharashtra, is likely to attend the oath-taking in a sign of rapprochement.
But, last-minute hitch prevented Sena MP Desai from taking oath, PTI reported, quoting unnamed Sena sources.
According to some TV reports, Desai arrived in Delhi, but did not leave the airport.
Meanwhile, opposition parties took a dig at the BJP over its slogan of "maximum governance, minimum government".
“It is interesting and ironical that the strength of the NDA council of ministers is today the same that the UPA originally had. Apparently, there is more hype and less substance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan..," Congress spokeperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.
CPI leader D Raja said, “NDA has a jumbo cabinet now, like the earlier UPA government. At a time when the UPA government became unpopular, the rhetoric and demagogy of the BJP worked against it. But such things cannot work forever. The NDA government will be judged on performance."