Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his ministry on Sunday and also rewarded "performers" among junior ministers with cabinet rank, top among them Nirmala Sitharaman who was named the country's new defence minister.
The rejig of the council of ministers, which also saw the exit of six members, is being seen as an attempt by Modi to improve the performance of his government as the 2019 general elections near.
The choice of ministers indicate the expansion is an attempt to make the council more representative by including members from various states, castes and communities.
Sitharaman, formerly a junior minister in charge of the commerce ministry, will now be a member of the crucial Cabinet Committee on Security which takes decisions on national security issues along with Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
India has not had a woman as defence minister since former prime minister Indira Gandhi kept the portfolio for herself.
The appointments to the council of ministers followed the resignation of six ministers, some of whom were dropped after a performance review by Modi, said sources from Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.
A couple of them were asked to quit as they would be given bigger responsibilities in the party, the sources said.
The new inductees, all of them junior ministers, include retired diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri who was once India's representative at the United Nations, former Home Ministry top bureaucrat RK Singh, former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh and another
bureaucrat and urban renewal expert KJ Alphons, a Christian from Kerala.
Among others elevated to the cabinet are Piyush Goyal, who held independent charge of the energy ministry and will be the new railway minister replacing Suresh Prabhu, who after a string of train accidents over the past six months, is being shifted to the commerce
India's new president Ram Nath Kovind presided over the oath-taking ceremony in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Modi attended the ceremony before he left for Beijing to attend the BRICS summit.
The BJP is the leading partner in the alliance that governs India. None of the other coalition partners figured in Sunday's reshuffle, which brings the number of ministers including Modi to 75.
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