New Delhi: In the first revamp of his Council of Ministers in the second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given the biggest representation to the Northeast in the history of the region.
On Wednesday, he inducted a record five Northeast leaders — two cabinet ministers and three ministers of state — including one from Tripura, a first.
According to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sources, the move came as the Northeast has supported the BJP wholeheartedly, from Assam to Manipur. Moreover, the BJP doesn’t want to dilute its hold in the region, which offers 25 Lok Sabha and 14 Rajya Sabha seats.
Team Modi had inducted two ministers from the Northeast in 2019 — Kiren Rijiju and Rameshwar Teli (both from Assam). In 2014, there were three — Sarbananda Sonowal, Rajen Gohain and Rijiju (two from Assam, one from Arunachal Pradesh).
In earlier governments, the region used to get a token representation of one or two. In 2004, then PM Manmohan Singh had P.R. Kyndiah from Meghalaya and Santosh Mohan Dev from Assam in his cabinet.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had no cabinet minister from the Northeast, but there were two ministers of state — Chaoba Singh (Manipur) and Bijoya Chakravarty (Assam).
After the latest changes, the Modi government has ministers from Assam, Arunachal, Manipur and Tripura.
Bhoumik makes history for Tripura
Pratima Bhoumik, a science graduate, is the first permanent resident of Tripura to become a Union minister in independent India.
Before her, West Bengal-based Triguna Sen, who made the first education policy in India, served as minister in the Indira Gandhi cabinet from the Tripura quota as he was a member of the Rajya Sabha from Tripura but a resident of Bengal.
Santosh Mohan Dev, who became a minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet and then the Manmohan cabinet, was also made minister from Tripura quota but he was from Assam.
Bhoumik, a woman face from west Tripura who comes from a farming background, was the BJP women morcha chief in the state and fought the 2018 election against former Tripura CM Manik Sarkar.
In 2019, she wrested the Tripura West Lok Sabha seat as the BJP scored a historic win in the state, defeating one of longest-running Left governments. The BJP has now inducted Bhoumik keeping in mind the 2023 assembly elections.
Speaking to ThePrint after her induction, she said, “I am the first minister from Tripura. Earlier, Dev and Triguna ji were from another state, not native to Tripura.”
On her work, she said: “The prime minister has given me the social justice ministry, I will set an example of doing historic work for marginalised people. This shows Modi’s love and affection for the Northeast people.”
First from Arunachal
MoS Kiren Rijiju, who was holding the independent charge of youth affairs and sport, has been promoted as a cabinet minister and given the very important portfolio of law, which is usually handled by a seasoned politician. In BJP, senior leaders like late Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad have held this portfolio in the past.
This is the first time a cabinet minister has come from Arunachal. Before Rijiju, former CM P.K. Thungon served as an MoS in the Congress regime.
The BJP has both the Lok Sabha seats in the crucial border state, which also has a BJP government.
Ministers who have served earlier
Former Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal has been brought back into the Union Cabinet. He was the MoS for skill development and sports in the first term of NDA government but left to take over as the chief minister of Assam in 2016.
He is said to enjoy good relations with the PM, and he has now been made the Union minister for shipping and also AYUSH — a first for Assam in many decades.
Earlier, former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed in the 1960s and later D.K. Barooh — who was famous for coining the slogan “Indira is India and India is Indira” — had been cabinet ministers from the state. Several others, including those named above like Dev, have been ministers of state in various governments.
“Since Assam was a big state, it got represented in every government but other states were not really represented in the Union Cabinet earlier,” said Northeast expert Sanjoy Hazarika.
Rameshwar Teli, another minister from Assam, has been retained in the Council of Minister as an MoS in the petroleum and labour ministries.
Erstwhile Manipur royal Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, an academician who won in 2019 from inner Manipur, has also been made a minister. Manipur is among the seven state going to polls in 2022.
With the state BJP having witnessed an internal revolt last year, the former royal has been given representation to breach trust deficit.
The last Union minister from Manipur was Chaoba Singh. He later became the BJP state president too.