Profiles of seven new ministers

April 6th, 2008 - 10:03 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) Here are the brief profiles of the seven ministers inducted into Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers Sunday: M.S. Gill

Few know about M.S. Gill’s passion for mountaineering.

Coached by Tenzing Norgay who climbed the Everest with Edmund Hillary, Gill is drawn towards mountains as he is towards the nitty-gritty of elections. He was the president of the mountaineering foundation.

It is therefore only fitting that he is now put in charge of sports and youth affairs.

As chief election commissioner (CEC) he lectured the political class. With his induction into the cabinet, he now becomes a full-time member of that political fraternity.

“It is a totally different experience to see things from the other side. I will try to play it with the best of my ability,” said Gill.

He was appointed CEC in 1996, stepping into the shoes of the redoubtable T.N. Seshan, who had sanitized the election campaigns and driven terror into erring politicians.

When asked in an interview about how it felt to be the successor of an ‘institution’ like Seshan, Gill had snapped back that he “wore his own shoes” and was a “man of his own personality”.

He did wear his own “hat”. At the height of a debate on 33 percent reservation for women in assemblies and parliament, Gill proposed that political parties themselves should reserve seats for women. The proposal was seriously debated and then junked.

Gill was the first CEC to allot prime time for political parties on radio and television for campaigning.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s choice of Gill as a minister is guided by the farmer’s experiences as a civil servant, his interest in agricultural issues and familiarity with the country, which he had mapped out for elections.

Gill served as chief secretary in the department of agriculture and petrochemical.

Taking charge of a new ministry is not going to be any more difficult than the tenure Gill had shared with a truculent Seshan in the Nirvachan Sadan. The UPA government, which is now steeping on the accelerator for speedier and more efficient delivery mechanisms in governances, will benefit from Gill’s years of experience.

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Jitin Prasada

Popularly referred to as a key member in the Congress party’s famous ‘RG camp’ - the favourites of party general secretary Rahul Gandhi, 34-year-old Jitin Prasada is the youngest in the council of ministers.

An expected induction after speculation about his appointment as young Gandhi’s political secretary did not take place.

Although he does not come across as a dyed-in-the-wool politician, this fun-loving and ever smiling Prasada has a very strong political background.

His late father Jitendra Prasada was one of the very few Congressmen who could retain their dominance in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh even after India’s oldest party was wiped out of the electoral scene there.

In fact, in the fall of 2000, he even challenged Sonia Gandhi in the elections for the party president’s post.

Born Nov 29, 1973, Prasada, a former DSP Merill Lynch executive, was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004 from his late father’s constituency Shahjahanpur.

Despite an MBA degree, he refers to himself as an agriculturist and believes that only education can remove social evils like casteism and backwardness in the country’s rural hinterland.

Like Rahul, Prasada too favours immediately raising the annual outlay for education. He wants it to be raised to six percent of the GDP.

Although born, brought up and educated in Delhi, Prasada is one of those rare parliamentarians who believe in spending time in constituency rather than making speeches in parliament.

Considered trustworthy among his close friends, Prasada, an eligible bachelor, prefers to dress up in white-kurta pyjama (with a black half jacket in winter), relishes non-vegetarian dishes, enjoys gizmos, especially playing with his mobile, and loves to watch movies and listen to music. He also indulges in adventure sports, including horse riding and water sports.

Although he will lose his family constituency as Shajahanpur is expected to become a reserved constituency in the new delimitation exercise, Prasada is confident of returning to parliament.

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Jyotiraditya Scindia

He has had to wait a long while in the wings but the wait has paid off for 37-year-old Jyotiraditya Scindia, MP from Guna. His name was doing rounds as a possible minister ever since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government took office in May 2004.

Many believe Scindia, scion of the former royal family of Gwalior, was born to rule. He did his schooling from the prestigious Doon School - like former Congress prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and many of his cabinet colleagues - completed his graduation from Harvard University and then earned an MBA from Stanford University.

After graduation, he interned with the UN economic development cell and later worked as an investment banker with global financial services firms Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. He also set up his own investment firm in Mumbai called Scindia Investments Private Limited.

A crowned ‘Maharaja’ after his father Madhavrao Scindia, a charismatic leader and seasoned politician who died in a plane crash in September 2001, Jyotiraditya Scindia was first elected to the Lok Sabha from his father’s constituency in February 2002.

Just like his father, being a politician has not been very easy for him because he had to fight political battles against his own family - his father’s sisters and his cousins are in the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Articulate and a good orator both in English and Hindi, Scindia is often seen fiddling with his latest model mobile phone in the Lok Sabha. He is, however, an active participant in debates. A regular in the house, Scindia takes an avid interest in discussions and his favourite issues are diverse - from economy to foreign policy and environment.

Though a regular in Page 3 parties, Scindia is equally passionate about endangered tigers and global warming just as he feels strongly about the lack of educational facilities for the poor in rural India.

Scindia, who loves sports, is a sharp shooter and interestingly enough has done a course in car racing from the US. He is married to Priyadarshini Raje Gaekwad of the erstwhile royal family of Vadodara and the couple has a 12-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter.

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V. Narayanaswamy

A Congress loyalist, V. Narayanaswamy, 61, finally got his due with the induction in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers.

As the party’s chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, he has had a long innings in the upper house, having served in several parliamentary panels, and was nominated to the panel of vice-chairman in 1997.

“I will live to up the party’s expectations by sheer dent of hard work. After all, I am a party worker and ready to discharge my duties in whatever capacity our leaders want,” said a beaming Narayanaswamy.

His organisational skills have stood him in good stead. As the party’s points person in Puducherry, Narayanswamy has worked hard to ensure that the Congress was always in the reckoning. He was the chief of the party unit for several years and then rewarded in January 2006 by being appointed the general secretary.

A lawyer by profession, Narayanaswamy was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in August 1985, and then in 1991. His seniority and trustworthiness were two strong points that made the party leadership nominate him again in 2003.

A vegetarian, Narayanswamy ideally likes to spend more time reading and listening to Tamil music but party work has him completely swamped.

Despite his portly size, he plays both volleyball and badminton. He is also president of the All India Backward Classes Employees Federation.

He studied arts at the Tagore Art College, Puducherry, and law at the Madras Law College. In fact, he even practised law for several years before taking the plunge in active politics.

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Rameshwar Oraon

Just a few months before the elections in 2004, Rameshwar Oraon resigned as additional director general of police in Jharkhand to jump into the fray of active politics. He won the Lok Sabha seat from the Lohardaga constituency on a Congress ticket with 223,920 votes.

A doctorate in economics from Patna University, 60-year-old Oraon joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1970.

Oraon shot into national limelight as the intrepid police officer who on orders from then chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav arrested BJP leader L.K. Advani in 1990 in Hajipur, Bihar, when he was on his Rath Yatra to the temple town of Ayodhya.

Interestingly, his past association did not stop him from chastising Railway Minister Lalu Prasad during a debate on the railway budget in parliament last month.

“Laluji has presented a historical budget, but he should do something to ensure that the projects are completed on time. What we see today is, a child becomes a senior citizen but the projects remain incomplete,” he said.

Oraon has been a strong supporter of the controversial Forest Rights Bill that was approved in 2007, asserting in parliamentary debates that tribals and forests were “inseparable”.

Last year, his background as a law enforcer helped him sniff out ‘fake’ journalists who tried to “sting” him by offering a bribe of Rs.9 million to approve a Rs.180 million project in his constituency and secretly filming his response.

While the “journalists” were enjoying his hospitality with a cup of tea, police arrived and nabbed them.

Oraon’s passion seems to be sports, or at least the management part of it. In fact, his Lok Sabha profile says that he is the president of seven Jharkhand sports associations, dealing with games ranging from hockey to more obscure ones like Wushu, a Chinese martial art and tug of war.

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Raghunath Jha

He holds tremendous clout in his constituency and among those who matter in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). That is what party insiders say. Raghunath Jha, 69 from Sitamarhi in Bihar is a two-time MP having once been elected on a Samata Party ticket in 1999.

Jha did not seem overly excited when he got that call that he was going to be sworn in.

“I have been a minister many times in Bihar. We are like Everyday batteries, ready to go all the time. And so is the case now,” he said briefly.

Educated till intermediate from the small town in the state’s northeast province, Jha’s political career is cobbled with instances of switching political loyalties.

As minister of state in the Congress-led Jaganath Mishra government in 1980, he was denied a ticket for the 1985 assembly elections. But that did not bother him and he contested and won as an Independent.

He joined the RJD in 1998 but parted way with party chief Lalu Prasad a year later and joined the Samata Party.

After Jha suffered successive defeats both in the Lok Sabha elections in 1998 and in an assembly by-election in November 1998, he finally bid goodbye to his home district Sitamarhi.

In the Lok Sabha elections of September 1999 he managed to get a Samata Party ticket for the Gopalganj seat and won. However, when things were not going smoothly he chose to return to the RJD.

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Santosh Bagrodia

An industrialist-turned-politician, Santosh Bagrodia, a thrice-elected Congress Rajya Sabha member from Rajasthan, has been a stringent critic of the UPA government’s Special Economic Zones (SEZ) policy.

Along with some other Congress MPs, he had even lent voice to the opposition and Left parties’ criticism of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act.

His outburst had taken place in the last budget session of parliament, when Commerce Minister Kamal Nath was defending the law, saying that it was “working well”.

Bagrodia’s flare-up was especially taken note of as he is the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on industry. He claimed cinema halls and amusement parks had come in SEZs, which had turned into a device for prime land grabbing.

Born in Kolkata in 1940, Bagrodia studied commerce in St Xavier’s College. According to his official profile, he joined the Congress in 1975. After 11 years of being at various party positions, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1986.

Thereafter, he was again nominated in 1998, followed by his re-election in 2004.

Besides being the chairman of the standing committee on industry, he is also the member of the consultative committees on civil aviation and consumer affairs.

Recently as member of an Indian delegation to the UN General Assembly debate on financing for development in October 2007, he blamed the Bretton Woods institutions for reverse flow of resources and called for reforming them to give more voice to the developing nations.

A keen golfer, he is a member of the executive committee of the Delhi Golf Club.

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