The Telegraph
Tuesday , May 27 , 2014
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Faces from the Northeast: Sonowal, Rijiju

New Delhi, May 26: Two out of 46 is the Northeastís score in Narendra Modiís council of ministers.

Sarbananda Sonowal and Kiren Rijiju, the BJPís winners from Lakhimpur (Assam) and Arunachal West constituencies respectively, were inducted into Narendra Modiís council of ministers this evening.

Sonowal is minister with independent charge, a sign that he will have the freedom to take decisions without a senior minister breathing down his neck. He will report directly to the Prime Minister and be able to attend cabinet meetings. Rijiju is a minister of state without independent charge. However, their portfolios were not clear till late in the evening.

ďWe were invited by Modiji this morning and told to work as a team but there was no intimation on the subject we will look after,Ē said Rijiju.

The DoNER ministry, however, was not handed over to an MP from the Northeast. It is likely to be handed over to former army chief Gen. (retd) V.K. Singh.

That left NDA allies Neiphiu Rio, Naga Peopleís Front leader and former Nagaland chief minister, and Purno Sangma, National Peopleís Party leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker, out of the core team.

Sources close to Rio conceded there was some disappointment as they had expected his inclusion in the council of ministers.

For Rio, it would also be a problem of protocol. His successor to the post of Nagaland chief minister, T.R. Zeliang, a former MP and then MLA, will enjoy cabinet rank status as a chief minister and as such would be seated ahead of Rio at any official function of the government of India. In the Warrant of Precedence that defines protocol, the chief minister of a state, outside his respective state, is placed at number 8 along with governors and foreign envoys. A member of Parliament, on the other hand, is way below at number 21 in a list of 26 rankings. Both Rio and Zeliang attended the swearing-in at Rashtrapati Bhavan today.

The sources said there was hope for Rio and Sangma if the ministry is expanded.

Another name missing is that of Bijoya Chakravarty, who appeared to have missed a ministerial berth because of her age as Modi decided to keep MPs above 75 years out of his council of ministers. The Gauhati MP will complete 75 years in October.

Both Sonowal and Rijiju are young leaders who swam against the current to defeat powerful Congress candidates. Sonowal fought former Union minister Ranee Narah while Rijiju was up against the formidable Takam Sanjoy.

For the Assam BJP, the leap ó it won 31 per cent vote share in the state ó was in a Congress bastion after a gamble of not playing along with a withering AGP that did not win a single seat this year. In Arunachal Pradesh, the odds were against Rijiju, who had changed the party for a short while but more than made up by visiting voters house to house, asking for their trust.

Earlier this week, the MPs were informed in unambiguous terms by Modiís office that the members would be ill-advised to lobby for a ministerial berth. As a result, most probables from the region nervously waited till they were invited for masala chai at Gujarat Bhawan. Sonowal and three other winners from Assam had demanded plum portfolios. Both were, however, inducted as ministers of state.