Indian prime minister expands council of ministers

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2014 10:58 PM
Indian prime minister expands council of ministers

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expanded his council of ministers and shifted several ministers in a bid to boost the government's agenda and kick-start the economy.

Twenty-one new ministers took the oath of office at a brief ceremony Sunday at the presidential palace in New Delhi.

Manohar Parrikar, who resigned as the chief minister of the state of Goa in western India over the weekend, was named defense minister.

Arun Jaitley, who held both the heavy-duty portfolios of finance and defense, remains as finance minister.

Modi, who took office in May after sweeping to power with a massive mandate in elections, now heads a 66-member council of ministers, with 26 ministers holding Cabinet rank.

Other newcomers to the council of ministers include Rajyavardhan Rathore, an Olympic silver medalist turned politician, who become the junior minister for information and communications. Babul Supriyo, a singer in films who is a first-time lawmaker from West Bengal state, has become the junior minister for urban development.

Modi has promised to return economic growth levels to the 8 percent range, which was the average for the decade to 2012. GDP growth increased to 5.7 percent in the first quarter of the year, after two years of growth under 5 percent.

There were several surprises in the reshuffle. Harsh Vardhan, a surgeon who had been trying to clean up India's health system, was shifted to the relatively less high-profile science and technology ministry. He was replaced by J.P. Nadda, a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Although Modi promised that he would head a lean government, political analysts said a bigger Cabinet was needed because ministers were overburdened, slowing the economic reform agenda.

Parliament resumes later this month and a strong ministerial team should enable Modi to push through legislation, said Neerja Choudhury, a political analyst.