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Singh begins second innings.

Byline: Nilofar Suhrawardy

NEW DELHI: The president of India, Pratibha Patil, administered the oath of office and secrecy to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his 19-member Cabinet yesterday evening at Ashoka Hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Singh has made history by returning to power for a second consecutive term and becoming the first to head Congress-led coalition governments continuously.

Although Singh became prime minister by "accident" in 2004, Congress put his name forward as the party's prime ministerial candidate from the beginning of the recent Lok Sabha polls' campaign.

This is the first time that a Congress-led coalition has returned to power after completing a full term in office without the anti-incumbency factor turning the cards against it.

With wrangling over ministerial berths still on between Congress and its allies, more ministers will be included in the Cabinet once differences are resolved.

Clarifying that yesterday's swearing-in ceremony was the first round of ministry formation, a press release from the Prime Minister's Office said: "This will be followed in the next few days by an expansion of the Council of Ministers, including other Cabinet ministers, ministers of state with independent charge as well other ministers of state. This expansion will give due representation to allied parties."

New faces in the Cabinet include Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), C.P. Joshi (Rajasthan Congress party president), Veerappa Moily (All India Congress Committee general secretary) and S.M. Krishna (former Karnataka chief minister).

Banerjee has returned to the Cabinet for the fourth time. She was a minister of state for two years in 1991 in Narasimha Rao's government. She quit Congress in 1998 to form her own party and took charge as railway minister in 2001 in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She quit the ministry after 17 months to return as coal minister in 2004.

Her innings was short-lived as NDA was defeated in the 2004 polls. She has joined Congress to oust the left bloc in the West Bengal assembly elections that are scheduled to take place in 2011.

Other ministers sworn in yesterday were Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, A.K. Antony, P. Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sushil Kumar Shinde, S. Jaipal Reddy, Kamal Nath, Vayalar Ravi, Meira Kumar, Murli Deora, Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, B.K. Handique and Anand Sharma.

Congress heavyweights, serving a second term in the new Cabinet, resolved to start getting down to business quickly by working on a 100-day timeline set by Singh.

"The momentum of the government starts from day one and the action plan to be framed by each ministry sets the tone of the government. I am looking forward to serving again with honesty and purpose," Nath asserted. He added that he would be "happy" with any portfolio.

The strong mandate given to the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was an opportunity to "bear responsibility of providing good governance," said Sibal and Soni.

Arjun Singh, a senior Congress leader and a former human resources development minister, has not been included in the new Cabinet because of his poor health, sources said.

The names of former Law Minister H.R. Bharadwaj, Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz and Mines Minister Sis Ram Ola do not figure on the new list.

The names of 50 more ministers will be finalized in the coming days, sources said.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:May 23, 2009
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