Meet Modi's Cabinet: India's new power players

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Mosiqi Acharya

Contributing Editor


On Monday evening, as 3000 guests gathered in New Delhi for the lavish inauguration of India’s 15th Prime Minister, the eyes of the world were on Narendra Modi. But within India there was keen interest in the other 23 men and women taking the oath of office as cabinet ministers.


“Team Modi” also includes 10 ministers with independent charge, and 12 Ministers of State. At 45 members all up, it is one of the leanest assemblies of ministers to lead the nation in the past 15 years, in keeping with the Modi campaign mantra of “less government, more governance”.


The cabinet includes political veterans Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari as well as a host of young turks. (A full list can be accessed here.) 


With a majority of 282 seats in the Parliament, Modi has not faced any pressure from political allies to include their MPs as cabinet ministers. Free to make his own choices, the majority of the ministers are from his Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) with just a few exceptions like Ramvilas Paswan, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Anant Geete.


Modi’s cabinet includes seven women ministers – Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharati, Najma Heptullah, Menaka Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman and Harsimrat Kaur Badal.





Narendra ModiPrime Minister and also in-charge of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space

Age: 63 years

Constituency: Vadodara (Gujarat) and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)

CV: He has served as Gujarat Chief Minister for 12 years. The powerhouse Gujarat Government has won over 300 awards at domestic and international levels under his leadership. Modi has an established reputation  is a strong, decisive leader with a record of ‘good governance’. He is one of the most active Indian politicians on social media, tweeting and blogging regularly to millions of followers.

Targets: He faces the herculean task of reviving the Indian economy and generating jobs. On his first day in office he held meetings with regional neighbours and promised to strengthen ties with them. He also constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to bring back ‘black’ money stashed overseas. Modi is expected to take a hands-on role in all ministries, especially in framing policy.



Rajnath Singh: Home Minister

Age: 62 years

Constituency: Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh)

CV: Rajnath Singh is a lecturer-turned-politician and one of closest confidantes of the Prime Minister within BJP. Like Modi, he was a member of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) party in his earlier years. He has served as Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister as well as a Union Minister in the former BJP Government and has been BJP President twice. Considered close to the RSS ranks, Singh as the Home Minister will have a major say in the government.

Targets: As Home Minister, Rajnath Singh’s focus will be to strengthen the internal security of India which has faced several terror attacks during UPA’s tenure.



Sushma Swaraj: Minister of External Affairs

Age: 62 years

Constituency: Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh)

CV: Former Leader of the Opposition in UPA 2’s tenure, Sushma Swaraj is a seven-time MP and one of the senior most BJP leaders and parliamentarians. Despite her opposition to Narendra Modi being declared as the party's prime ministerial candidate, Swaraj’s appointment as India’s Minister of External Affairs indicates her capabilities – she is someone who cannot be ignored. Swaraj has served as a Union Minister in former BJP governments. As India’s External Affairs minister, Swaraj will play a crucial role in India’s foreign policy. An eloquent orator, Swaraj also represents the woman power within BJP and the Indian Parliament.

Targets: Swaraj’s task will be to establish India as a front runner among world leaders and chalk out a ‘trade friendly’ foreign policy.



Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance, Corporate Affairs & Defence

Age: 61 years

Constituency: He lost the seat of Amritsar, but will continue to be an upper house MP.

CV: Jaitley is one of Modi’s closest confidantes, as signalled by his appointment to such weighty posts despite his personal loss in the polls. Jaitley, a former Supreme Court lawyer, has stood by Modi during his most turbulent times. Modi’s strongest supporter within BJP, Jaitley has often provided him with legal assistance and guidance whenever the Modi administration was mired in legal controversies in Gujarat. Jaitley has served in the former BJP Government as Information and Broadcasting Minister and Minister for Disinvestment as well as Minister of Shipping. This time around, as Minister of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Defence, Jaitley will be one of Modi’s most trusted aides. With reviving the economy being at the top of this government’s agenda, Jaitley will work in tandem with Modi to ease policies that aide economic growth. As Defence Minister, he is likely to implement Modi’s vision of encouraging domestic production of certain arms and ammunition.

Targets: Jaitley’s task is to usher in economic reforms to contain price rise, restore confidence of investors in the Indian economy. One of the most immediate tasks will also be to prepare the next budget where he needs to keep fiscal deficit in check.



Venkaiah Naidu, Minister of Urban Development, Housing and Poverty Alleviation, Parliamentary Affairs

Age:  65 years

Constituency: Member of Parliament in the Upper House

CV: Naidu is a veteran BJP leader who represents South India in Parliament. Naidu, a former Party President has served as a Union Minister previously. Naidu as Minister of Urban Development will be responsible for certain major infrastructure projects. Housing and Poverty Alleviation has featured prominently in the BJP’s manifesto and Modi is likely to prioritise these issues as the majority of his voters come from urban areas in India.

Target: Urban Development is likely going to be Modi’s pet project. Naidu will be heading major infrastructure projects in urban areas as a Minister.



Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road, Transport & Highway, Minister of Shipping

Age: 58 years

Constituency: Nagpur, Maharashtra

CV: Gadkari is a first-time MP who until now has played a major role in Maharashtra state politics. Believed to be very close to RSS ranks, Gadkari was installed as BJP’s youngest president at the behest of the RSS party. Gadkari is known as an able administrator and came to be known as ‘flyover man’ during his stint as a state minister, during which time he built series of highway flyovers in Mumbai. He has promoted water management, solar energy projects and the use of modern technology and management tools in agriculture.

Targets: As Minister of Road, Transport & Highway, Gadkari will be increasing the road network across the country – not just highways but also interior roads in rural areas. Gadkari will also be heading ambitious projects of modernising the road network.



Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Commerce (Independent Charge)

Age: 54 years

Constituency: Not an MP - she is likely to be made a member of the Upper House soon.

CV: An articulate BJP spokesperson, Sitharaman was a regular on television debates. An M.Phil in international studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), Sitharaman has worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the BBC in London. She was part of the National Commission for Women before joining the BJP. On her first day in office, Sitharaman reaffirmed the BJP's stand of not allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, but said her government would take steps to boost exports and create jobs.

Targets: Sitharaman’s task at hand is to revive the dmall and medium rnterprises sector in India, which are seen to have the highest potential to create jobs and add to the economic growth.



Piyush Goyal, Minister of Coal, Power, New and Renewable Energy (Independent Charge)

Age: 49 years

Constituency: Member of the Upper House

CV: A chartered accountant and lawyer by qualification, Goyal holds an impressive academic record. A well-known investment banker, he has advised top corporates on management strategy and growth and has served on the boards of India’s largest commercial bank, the State Bank of India, and the Bank of Baroda. As the head of the BJP's Information Communication Campaign Committee, he oversaw the winning campaign for the party via web, mobile and social-media. Impressed by his management skills, Modi has assigned him the important portfolio of Coal, Power and Renewable Energy, which needs immediate attention. The three ministries have been clubbed by Prime Minister Modi for a more effective delivery of public services.

Targets: Modi aims to remove bottle-necks facing the Coal Mining industry. The government will do this by strengthening the roads and the highway network, to streamline coal distribution across the country which will be used to generate power. Goyal’s task will be to create a ‘transparent’ coal allocation system after the previous government had to cancel 29 block allocations following an ‘unethical’ implementation of the coal policy.



DV Sadananda Gowda, Minister of Railways

Age: 61 years

Constituency: Bangalore North

CV: A third-time MP from Karnataka, this is his first stint as a minister. He has, however, served as Karnataka’s Chief Minister briefly. Gowda, an eminent administrator and a key policy-maker, has served in various committees of the Karnataka State Legislature including the cell for preparing the Draft Bill on prohibiting atrocities on women, the Committee of Energy, Fuel and Power, and the Committee for Public Undertaking.

Targets: As Minister of Railways, Gowda will have to immediately get on with the task of updating the railway systems which has seen some terrible man-made disasters recently. Gowda will also be expected to bring the high-speed trains to major cities across India.



Menaka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development

Age: 57 years

Constituency: Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh

CV: The widow of Sanjay Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi is the youngest daughter-in-law of India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Maneka fell out with her famous mother-in-law after her husband’s death and launched her own political career. She formally joined BJP in 2004 and has served previously as a Minister in BJP government. A former journalist, she is a six-time MP and has played a pivotal role in drafting the new pension scheme. Menaka is also an active animal rights activist.

Targets: The BJP in its manifesto has promised tougher laws for crimes against women. Strengthening security for women, addressing gender issues and looking into India’s high malnutrition and infant mortality rates as well as female foeticide will be Menaka’s priorities as she starts work in her portfolio.



Najma Heptullah, Minister of Minority Affairs

Age: 74 years

Constituency: Member of the Upper House

CV: She is the muslim face in Modi’s cabinet. The grand-niece of Indian freedom fighter Maulana Azad, Najma Heptullah, she is a political and party veteran. She holds a PhD in cardiac anatomy and has published several research papers.

Targets: Najma has been assigned the difficult task of addressing the minority issues, who have remained aloof from BJP. Najma’s task will be to bring them to mainstream through education and job opportunities.



Smriti Irani, Minister for Human Resource Development

Age: 38 years

Constituency: She lost from Amethi. Will continue to be Upper House MP

CV: She is the youngest minister in Modi’s cabinet. Despite losing to Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, Smriti Irani has been awarded with a cabinet post for giving him a tough fight. A former model and a popular television actress, Irani has vociferously defended Narendra Modi in television debates. She was recently made the Party Vice-President and is believed to be on excellent terms with Modi.

Targets: Smriti has been allotted a portfolio close to Modi’s heart. As HRD Minister, Smriti will be looking into modernising the Indian education system and will be responsible for reforms in the Education Sector.



Retired General VK Singh, Minister of Development of North Eastern Region (independent charge), External Affairs & Overseas Indian Affairs

Age: 63 years

Constituency: Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh)

CV: Singh is a Retired Army General who fought a long battle with the former UPA government over his age issue. After his retirement, he joined BJP right after Narendra Modi was announced BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. He fought his first election this time and has been given Independent Charge of Development of North Eastern Region of India.

Targets: Modi during campaigning has promised the north-east of better road networks and more job opportunities. As a Minister for Development of this region, he is likely to dwell into border issues of Arunachal Pradesh and check the infiltration from across the border.