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10 key faces in Modi govt and challenges their ministries face

The voters and foreign investors alike have high hopes for Modi, whose slick campaign presented him as a business-friendly leader who would jump-start investment. We take a look at 10 key faces in the Modi government and the challenges their ministries face.

india Updated: May 28, 2014 01:01 IST
Nisheeth Upadhyay

Narendra Modi was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister on Monday, taking charge of the world's largest democracy as it struggles with an economic slowdown and a severe shortage of jobs.

The voters and foreign investors alike have high hopes for Modi, whose slick campaign presented him as a business-friendly leader who would jump-start investment.

We take a look at 10 key faces in the Modi government and the challenges their ministries face.

1) Arun Jaitley

Portfolios: Finance, corporate affairs and defence

Arun Jailtley is an acclaimed lawyer and one of the most articulate leaders of the BJP. A member of the party's top decision making bodies, he was the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in the last five years of UPA-II. Jaitley, 61, displayed political dexterity to ensure that the Manmohan Singh government did not have an easy time over the various controversies that dogged it. He has been the party's chief troubleshooter and is considered close to Modi.


Challenges for finance ministry

The biggest challenge will be to revive an economy that is mired in its worst slowdown in over a decade due to myriad issues such as strained public finances, persistently high inflation, high interest rates and rising bad loans at banks. The Modi government will face its first credibility test with markets when it delivers a budget that will need to convince investors that India can realistically contain its fiscal deficit.

Higher duties and other restrictions, put in place by the previous government in a bid to curb a high current account deficit, have had adverse impact, including almost halving gold imports. These moves have been deeply unpopular. Gold smuggling has surged after the measures, casting doubt on reported data. The finance minister will also have to simplify tax laws.

Challenges for defence ministry

The new defence minister will face challenges including delayed acquisition of critical weapons systems and hardware such as the 126 Multirole Combat Aircraft, 197 light choppers and shortage of ammunition faced by the army for its tank fleet. Jaitley will also have to bridge a trust deficit between the civilian and military bureaucracy which came to the fore during the controversy over the age of former Army chief and now BJP minister Gen VK Singh.

2) Sushma Swaraj

Portfolio: Foreign affairs

The 62-year-old leader is BJP's woman face in and outside Parliament. She earned laurels by showing political courage by taking on Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in 1999. She took over as the first woman chief minister of Delhi in 1998. Born in Haryana, Swaraj has represented Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh in both Houses of Parliament.


Challenges for foreign affairs ministry

India, the regional heavyweight, has long had difficult ties with its neighbours, most notably Pakistan, but also smaller nations, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, over trade, immigration and river sharing issues.

Modi may also be seeking to address concerns that long-time rival China is making inroads in the region.

China has built a port in Sri Lanka and is involved in upgrading another in Bangladesh, besides its military and civil assistance to long-time ally Pakistan, heightening Delhi's anxieties of being boxed in.

Ties with the United States have slid since the 2008 nuclear deal when the two sides elevated their relations to a strategic level. The US has been unhappy with India’s market reforms pace, especially in the nuclear power sector as well as issues around intellectual property rights.

3) Rajnath Singh

Portfolio: Home affairs

He is the longest-serving chief of the BJP after Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (country's most populous state), Singh, 62, introduced RTI allowing anybody to scan government files after paying a fee of Rs. 10. During his stint as the Union surface transport minister, Singh conceived Bharat Stage emission standard, replacing its European counterpart — Euro.


Challenges for home ministry

The home ministry will have to take effective steps to check activities of terror outfits and infiltration from across the border and action plan being implemented to deal with the Maoist menace. Relations between the Centre and states will have to be the focus of the home minister. The process of division of Andhra Pradesh, from which Telangana will be carved out on June 2, will need immediate attention by the government.

4) DV Sadananda Gowda

Portfolio: Railways

Gowda, 63, started his policital career with the ABVP and has also been associated with the Jan Sangh. The BJP won the assembly election for the first time in south India in May 2008 under his leadership as the president of state unit of the party. He was named as the CM in August 2011 after his mentor BS Yeddyurappa resigned.


Challenges for railway ministry

The railway ministry needs an overhauling. The Indian Railways is facing problems such as fund shortage and lack of infrastructure upgrades. Safety is another issue the ministry has been struggling with. At least 40 people were killed and about 100 injured when the Gorakhdham Express rammed into a stationary goods train in Uttar Pradesh on Monday.

5) Radha Mohan Singh

Portfolio: Agriculture

The 64-year-old leader is an MP from Purvi Champaran in Bihar. Considered close to the RSS, Singh has remained a low-profile leader. This is his fourth innings in the Lok Sabha. He pipped a fellow Thakur leader, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, to get a place in Modi's team.


Challenges for agriculture ministry

The new government may face a factor beyond its control: the El Nino weather pattern, typically associated with weak rains.

Analysts say El Nino could batter India's farm output. High vegetable prices and costlier staples such as rice have pushed India's wholesale inflation to a three-month high of 5.70% in March, while retail inflation quickened 8.31% during the month.

This is the first time in a quarter century that the country's growth will end below 5% in two successive years. And deficient monsoons, critical for the kharif crop, could fan prices further.

It could hurt industrial recovery, as well. When farm output is weak, rural spending goes down. For instance, rural buyers account for nearly half of all motorcycles sold in India. Farm growth in India has struggled to rise above 3%. Given Modi’s claims of much higher agricultural growth in Gujarat, Singh will be under pressure to step on the gas.

6) Smriti Irani

Portfolio: Human resource development


Challenges for HRD ministry

The government may introduce new policies to make education more job oriented. About 12 million people join the queue of young hopefuls every year. Finding jobs for them is a key challenge. Job creation follows real investment with a time lag.

7) Gopinath Munde

Portfolio: Rural development, panchayati raj, drinking water and sanitation

A former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, Munde, 64, has the experience of running several departments including energy and home. He is an OBC leader who commands respect in cross sections of the society.


Challenges for rural development ministry

What was inconceivable only few days ago in the corridors of the rural development ministry is now openly being pitched for — how to scale down UPA government's brainchild NREGA. Ministry officials are busy drawing up a blueprint for the new government to tweak NREGA in a bid to increase the efficiency of the 2006 rural job guarantee scheme. The scheme comes under the rural development ministry. Some of the proposed changes include a focus on select blocks instead of all districts, emphasis on creation of durable assets and tweaking the 60:40 ratio of wage and material.

8) Prakash Javadekar

Portfolio: Information and broadcasting (independent charge), environment, forest and climate change (independent charge), parliamentary affairs


Challenges for environment ministry

The environment ministry has struggled with corruption charges related to green clearances for various projects. Modi is said to be focusing on making the ministry functioning transparent. The biggest challenge before Javadekar would be balancing growth and green concerns, something that the previous government of Manmohan Singh struggled with, hampering economic growth. Javadekar will also be under pressure from western powers to water down India’s strident nationalist stand on global climate change talks.

9) Uma Bharti

Portfolio: Water resources and Ganga cleaning

Once a chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, who explored life outside BJP before eventually making a comeback, Bharti – an OBC leader - bagged the Jhansi Parliamentary seat this time. She has been a prominent, firebrand face since the Ayodhya days and is considered close to the Sangh.


Challenges for water resources and Ganga cleaning ministry

Uma Bharti has been given a special task to save the River Ganga from pollution and illegal quarrying. The issue has also had little positive attention, thanks to partisan politics. Bharti will have to implement the key project which is not just a matter of conviction for her but also a promise made by the Prime Minister.

10) Najma Heptulla

Portfolio: Minority affairs

Heptulla, 74, is one of the seven women ministers and the only Muslim face in the cabinet. She is the grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and is a Rajya Sabha member. A former deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha. She had contested the vice-presidential elections held in August 2007 but lost to Hamid Ansari.


Challenges for minority affairs ministry

In Modi's first speech as Prime Minister-elect, he vowed to work for all Indians. Yet there are still concerns that communal tensions could be stirred with Muslims who account for 15% of India's 1.2 billion people.

Modi took a tough line in his campaign speeches on illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation, saying they should have their "bags packed" in case he came to power. He called Hindu refugees from the country "family".

(All Images courtesy PTI)

(With inputs from Agencies)

Editor's Take:

Decoding Modi's lean cabinet