New Delhi: Capping a landslide election victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take oath along with a new council of ministers on Thursday for a second term, as suspense mounted on who will get the Big Four berths - Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs.
Top opposition leaders including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, corporate honchos, film stars, chief ministers and a galaxy of leaders from BIMSTEC countries will be on hand to watch President Ram Nath Kovind administer the oath of office and secrecy to 68-year-old Modi and his ministerial colleagues at the forecourt of majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Modi and BJP president Amit Shah held a marathon meeting for the second consecutive day on Wednesday during which they are learnt to have finalised the broad contours the new ministry that is expected to have some new faces besides retaining most of the senior ministers.
Though there is an intense buzz that Shah, credited for crafting the political strategy for the BJP, may be part of the new government and be given a plum portfolio, there was no clarity yet on him making a ministerial debut at the Centre. There was also speculation that Shah might continue as BJP chief since Assembly elections in some key states are due to be held in the next one year.
Many BJP leaders are of the view that most key members of the previous Cabinet could be retained.
Senior members like Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Narendra Singh Tomar and Prakash Javadekar are likely to retain their place. Irani, who defeated Rahul Gandhi in his home turf of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh to earn the tag of giant killer, is expected to get a key portfolio.
A day before the swearing-in ceremony, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote to Modi saying he does not want to be a minister in the new government on health grounds.
There have been indications that the new ministry will reflect BJP's rising strength in states like West Bengal, Odisha and Telangana.
As far as allies are concerned, both the Shiv Sena and the JD(U) are expected to get two berths (one cabinet and one MoS) each, while the LJP and the SAD may be given one berth each.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had a meeting with Shah on Wednesday and the two leaders are understood to have discussed JD(U)'s representation in the government.
Lok Janshakti Party on Tuesday passed a resolution, recommending its president Ram Vilas Paswan as the party's representative in the Modi government.
The AIADMK, which was also not part of the previous government, won only one seat. It may be given a ministerial berth as it is in power in Tamil Nadu besides being a key Dravidian ally of the BJP.
Around 8,000 guests are expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony at the forecourt which is generally used for ceremonial reception to visiting heads of state and heads of government.
When Modi is sworn-in at around 7pm, it will be the second time he takes the oath at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Modi was sworn in by the then President Pranab Mukherjee in 2014 in the presence of over 3,500 guests including the heads of SAARC countries. Earlier, Chandra Shekhar in 1990 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 were sworn in at the sprawling forecourt.
Leaders of BIMSTEC countries including President of Bangladesh Abdul Hamid, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, President of Myanmar U Win Myint and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering have already confirmed their attendance at the event.
From Thailand, its Special Envoy Grisada Boonrach will represent the country. Besides India, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) comprises Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
The government has also invited Kyrgyz President and current chair of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, and Mauritius PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth for the event and both of them have confirmed their participation.
The opposition leaders who have been invited included TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, JD(S) leader and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao, AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Though Banerjee had initially said she will attend the event, on Wednesday she announced that she will skip it, taking strong note of BJP's allegation that 54 of its workers had been killed in political violence in West Bengal.
The invitation to opposition leaders is seen as Modi's move to reach out to them following the fiercely fought election in which the BJP registered a massive victory.
Modi led BJP to a back-to-back majority for a single party in over three decades with the party winning 303 out of 542 seats in the lower house of parliament.