Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today carried out a major expansion of his Council of Ministers, inducting 19 new faces, including several from the disadvantaged sections of India's caste riddled society as well as from poll-bound states like the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Prakash Javadekar, who held the independent charge of environment, was promoted to the cabinet rank while all new inductees took oath as ministers of state.
Today's exercise underlines the ruling party's attempt at wooing the disadvantaged sections, whose votes would be crucial to its fortunes in key northwestern states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
All barring Vijay Goel and Faggan Kulaste are new faces while a few have been ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state governments.
Ajay Tamta, Arjun Ram Meghwal, Krishna Raj, Ramdas Athawale, Ramesh C were MPs sworn in as ministers by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Others who were inducted in the Modi government included Anupriya Patel, S S Ahluwalia, P P Chadudhary, C R Chaudhary, M J Akbar, J Bhabhor, Purshotam Rupala Mansukhbhai Mandaviya, S R Bhamre, Mahendra Nath Padey, A M Dave, Rajen Gohain.
While Patel and Athawale are BJP allies, all others are from BJP.
Among the 19 inductees, three MPs from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh took oath while four from Rajasthan were also sworn in.
Five ministers of state were dropped: Nihalchand, Ram Shankar Katheria, Sanwar Lal Jat, Manuskhbhai D Vasva and M K Kundariya.
Today's expansion took the total strength of the Council of Ministers to 78, four below the Constitutional bar of 82. The Council of Ministers can have a maximum of 15 per cent of the total strength of the lower house of the Indian Parliament, Lok Sabha, which has 542 members.
Official sources said the exercise was aimed at infusing more "experience, expertise and energy" into the government.
The choices also underscore BJP's attempts to strengthen its vote base among dalits and other backward castes, party sources said, adding that states, where it has done well in the Lok Sabha polls and also where it faces state polls, have also now got ample representation.
The party has been trying to woo the weaker sections ahead of the crucial Uttar Pradesh polls.