Modi Chooses Old Faces in Cabinet as Finance Post Awaited

(Bloomberg) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new cabinet will see the return of several old faces from his earlier administration, although there’s no clarity on the positions they’ll hold, including the key finance post.

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Modi was sworn into office for a third consecutive term Sunday, followed by his council of ministers, a group that consists of 30 cabinet ministers. Nineteen of them are from Modi’s previous cabinet, including allies like Amit Shah, former home minister, and Nirmala Sitharaman, who helmed the finance ministry.

Some of the new faces include J.P. Nadda, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state. Five of the new appointees are from the BJP’s coalition partners, who Modi has been forced to share power with after his party lost its majority in the parliament.

A statement is expected later Monday outlining the portfolios of the ministers who took the oath of office Sunday. A cabinet meeting is scheduled for 5pm local time, according to the prime minister’s office.

Here’s a look at some of the key names in the likely cabinet:

Amit Shah

Amitbhai Anilchandra Shah, 59, is a former president of the BJP and a close aide of Modi. He has risen through the ranks in the party, from a lowly party worker who hung campaign posters to the influential home minister in 2019. He’s been one of the key architects of critical government decisions including revoking autonomy of the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir and amending the citizenship law to grant nationality to only non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries. His rise has been closely interlaced with Modi’s own ascend to the top. Shah and Modi met in the 1980s in the western state of Gujarat, where they were members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling party. The two men come from very different backgrounds — Shah is a former stockbroker from a wealthy family, while Modi is the son of a tea stall owner — yet they both became close allies.

Known for his meticulous attention to detail, Shah along with Modi has been working on fulfilling the core agenda of the BJP. He was instrumental in the ruling party’s strong performance in the 2014 and 2019 general elections.

Earlier, federal investigators under a government run by the Indian National Congress party had charged Shah with running an extortion racket and ordering three murders. Shah denied wrongdoing and was later acquitted by a court, which called the charges “politically motivated.”

Nirmala Sitharaman

Sitharaman, 64, has held a string of increasingly important roles inside the BJP and the government under Modi, and is seen as a senior and trusted member of the prime minister. She’s previously been minister in charge of trade, defense and finance portfolios.

During her tenure as finance minister, Sitharaman boosted spending on infrastructure in line with Modi’s priorities, trimmed the fiscal deficit from more than 9% of gross domestic product during the pandemic and pushed for transparency in the government’s accounts. She’s overseen economic growth of more than 8%, making India one of the fastest-growing major economies. She also enjoys good ties with the central bank, which paid the government a record dividend of about $25 billion this year.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

A career diplomat, Jaishankar has served as the foreign minister for the past five years. He’s helped navigate India through two ongoing global wars, rising tensions with China, while steering an independent path through a fraying US-led international order.

As foreign minister, Jaishanker has robustly defended the country’s relationship with Russia. India has continued to buy oil and weapons even as the West has imposed ever-stricter sanctions on Moscow. Jaishankar has defended India’s pursuit of of its own interests as “hedging” while pursuing “apparently contradictory approaches and objectives.” India has grown closer to the West, as relations with Beijing soured after a border clash in 2020, and tried to use the favorable geopolitcal climate to position itself as an alternative to companies trying to diversify supply chains away from China. India’s relations with the West have been complicated in recent months by allegations that its officials were involved in murder-for-hire plots in Canada and the US, but the broad contours of those relations are unlikely to change. Prior to becoming foreign minister, Jaishanker served as India’s envoy to China and as foreign secretary.

Piyush Goyal

Goyal was minister in charge of trade, textiles and consumer affairs in the previous Modi administration, and is well known to Indian market watchers. He’s been heavily involved in several trade negotiations recently, including an ambitious free trade agreement with the UK.

Goyal, 59, has donned many hats in his 35-year-long political career, previously helming important ministries like coal and power. He was a former treasurer of the Bharatiya Janata Party. This year, he contested his first-ever election for a seat in the lower house of parliament, known as the Lok Sabha. He previously represented the western state of Maharashtra in the upper house of parliament since 2010.

Goyal’s father was also a federal minister and a national treasurer of the BJP for more than two decades.

Nitin Gadkari

Gadkari, 67, has deep roots in the BJP’s ideological wing, the RSS. In the last two Modi governments, Gadkari has led the transport ministry and is widely credited with rapidly expanding India’s infrastructure, including building some 10,000 kilometers of roads each year since 2018, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. Gadkari has been urging states to promote the use of ethanol as an alternative source of fuel and pushing India’s carmakers to adopt better safety norms.

J.P. Nadda

The 63-year-old BJP party chief has been inducted in a Modi-led cabinet for the second time. He served as the country’s health minister in the first Modi government from 2014-2019. Nadda, who started his political career as an activist in an anti-corruption movement, joined the student wing of the BJP and later its ideological parent, the RSS, before becoming the party’s president in 2020. Nadda is a close associate of Modi’s and a lawyer by training, and represented the northern state of Himachal Pradesh in the upper house of parliament. During his time as party president, the BJP swept three key state-level elections in late 2023.

Rajnath Singh

Singh, 72, has served as India’s defense minister for the past five years. During his tenure, the government banned the imports of several defense items, as the country embarks on an ambitious program to indigenize the manufacture of various key weapons systems. Even as it pursues that, the country has also diversified its imports and buys a lot more military hardware from the US, as Washington and New Delhi draw closer amid on-going tensions with China.

Singh has also taken key steps to boost the participation of women in India’s armed forces — increasing the tenure of women officers from 10 to 14 years and improving their promotional prospects in the army.

Singh has served as the BJP’s national president in the past. During his tenure, he advocated a 33% reservation for women in the party set-up. He also previously had a stint leading the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and had held key roles in the parliament and the state legislature.

Shivraj Singh Chauhan

Chauhan, 65, has more than two decades worth of political experience, including as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, a populous state in central India. He was recently passed over by the BJP’s leadership for another stint at the top state job and won a seat in parliament in the recently concluded elections. Chauhan, who’s been a member of the parliament twice in the past, is seen as very popular among rank-and-file BJP workers and also belongs to a lower caste of Hindus, further raising his appeal among voters from that group.

--With assistance from Sudhi Ranjan Sen.

(Updates with cabinet meeting in fourth paragraph.)

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