The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Zubin Irani and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, from ally Shiromani Akali Dal, were inducted as cabinet ministers in the second innings of the Modi-led Union government.
In comparison, there were nine women in Modi’s first government, including six in the cabinet.
One of those cabinet members, former minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj, was missing in action on Thursday after recusing herself from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of 2019 on health grounds. Instead, Swaraj, a seven-time MP and three-time MLA, was seen cheering the newly inducted ministers, sitting in the front row alongside senior party colleagues Sumitra Mahajan and L.K. Advani.
Two prominent women cabinet ministers were dropped from the new NDA government—former women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi and former drinking water and sanitation minister Uma Bharti.
Taking oath as ministers of state were former minister of state for food processing industries Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Renuka Singh Saruta from Chhattisgarh and Debasree Chaudhuri from West Bengal. Saruta and Chaudhuri are first-time MPs.
Nirmala Sitharaman, two-time Rajya Sabha member and the defence minister in the previous government, was the first woman to take oath as a cabinet minister on Thursday. She is likely to continue as defence minister.
Irani, who won from Amethi, the pocket borough of the Gandhi family, defeating Congress president Rahul Gandhi by over 50,000 votes, was the next to read out her oath of office, amid huge applause from the audience.
Irani held various portfolios in the previous government, including information and broadcasting, human resource development and textiles.
Modi retained Punjab MP Badal following her impressive stint as cabinet minister of food processing industries. She is the daughter-in-law of former five-time Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
The newly elected 17th Lok Sabha has the highest representation of women at 14.3% to make up a total of 78—a marked improvement from the 62 women MPs in 2014. In the 2019 general elections, 716 women candidates contested.