Chennai: DMK chief MK Stalin was sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, along with 33 members of his cabinet, by Governor Banwarilal Purohit in a simple ceremony – amid restrictions in place due to the pandemic – at the Raj Bhavan in Chennai this morning.
His wife, Durga Stalin; son, Udhayanidhi, who made his poll debut this year and won from Chennai’s Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni seat; and sister, Lok Sabha MP Kanimozhi, were among those present.
Also present was poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who masterminded the election win.
Mr Stalin was also sworn in as Home Minister and will hold other portfolios, including administrative and police services, special programmes and the welfare of differently abled persons.
This will be Mr Stalin’s first term; at 69, he is the oldest first-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. His father, party legend M Karunanidhi, held the post five times. A seven-time MLA and twice elected as the Mayor of Chennai, today’s swearing in marks the culmination of a nearly 10-year wait.
Mr Stalin takes charge as the state battles a severe second Covid wave; this morning nearly 25,000 new cases were reported in the previous 24 hours. Cases spiked during campaigning, as all major parties held rallies at which social distancing was absent, leading to sharp rebukes from the Madras High Court.
Containing the virus and leading the state’s recovery will be among his biggest challenges.
Ms Kanimozhi expressed confidence in her brother’s abilities, and said he had a “clear plan for containment (of the COVID-19 virus) and that will be his first priority.
With 33 ministers in his cabinet, Mr Stalin has a blend of youth and experience to call on to address these challenges. There are 19 former ministers in the cabinet, but only two women.
The new Water Resources Minister is veteran DMK leader Duraimurugan – a former minister and six-time MLA from Katpadi. The post is a critical one for a state that is frequently hit by drought.
The Finance portfolio – another critical post – has been given to Palanivel Thiagarajan, a former investment banker who worked in the United States.
This is a key appointment because during campaigning Mr Stalin had promised ₹ 4,000 in food relief for poor families, free bus travel for women and ten lakh jobs every year.
The Health Department – now the Medical and Family Welfare – has its work cut out to contain the Covid wave and is led by first-time minister MA Subramanian, who is the ex-Chennai Mayor.
With reports of shortages of beds, Mr Stalin has appealed to private hospitals to offer beds at low price. He also wants a war room to help co-ordinate demand and availability across districts.
S Regupathy has been given the Law Ministry, Thangam Thennarasu the Industries portfolio, K Ponmudi will be Higher Education Minister, EV Velu will head Public Works and S Muthusamy will be the Housing and Urban Development Minister.
The new Chief Minister has also made changes to the names of several ministries. He has also not given his son Udhayanidhi Stalin – who won from Chennai’s – a berth.
The Agriculture Ministry has become the Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Ministry and will be led by MRK Panneerselvam, a five-term MLA from Kurinjipadi in Cuddalore district.
The Environment Ministry – to be headed by Siva V Meyyanathan – will now be Environment – Climate Change Ministry. The Labour Welfare Ministry is now Labour Welfare and Skill Development and will be led by CV Ganesan.
The NRI Department is now Non-Resident Tamils’ Welfare and has been given to Gingee KS Masthan, who has also got Minorities Welfare, Refugees and Evacuees, and the Wakf Board.
The Fisheries Ministry has been renamed Fisheries and Fisherfolk Welfare, will be led by Anitha R Radhakrishnan, who also got Animal Husbandry. Information and Public Relations has become Information Ministry, and has been given to T Mano Thangaraj.
The DMK, which led an alliance that included the Congress, swept the April 6 election, winning 159 of 234 seats. The AIADMK, which was in power, had allied with the BJP but secured only 75 seats.
The DMK’s victory restored the southern state’s tradition of alternating between the two major state parties every five years, after giving the AIADMK two consecutive terms.