Modi Cabinet: Jaishankar, Sitharaman Stand Out

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Washington, DC – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced his new cabinet which included most of the expected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veterans such as Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari. There was, however a choice that caught international attention – former foreign secretary and veteran diplomat, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Jaishankar is a well-known retired bureaucrat (77 batch) across the spectrum of global capitals as he was India’s ambassador to both the US and China, among other countries. He is credited with some excellent tough negotiations on behalf of India – for example diffusing tensions with China in 2017 over the border standoff on Doklam plateau, and earlier brokering the historic India-US nuclear deal during the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh. To a discerning eye, it didn’t escape the attention that former prime minister Singh was one of the first to congratulate him as he stepped off the stage after taking the oath.

Earlier as India’s envoy in Beijing in November 2011, Jaishankar officially came across Modi during his visit to China as Gujarat Chief Minister. In the US, we remember the unflinching efforts of Jaishankar during his tenure here in 2014 in organizing the hugely successful first visit of Narendra Modi, when the “rockstar” prime minister enthralled Indian diaspora at the Madison Square Garden in New York. Jaishankar was called to Delhi soon after Modi’s visit to the US and appointed as Foreign Secretary. He replaced Sujatha Singh who was removed six months before the end of her term.

Incoming Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has a tough domestic task cut out for her. India was the world’s fastest growing economy in the recent past as it was racing to hold its Festival of Democracy, but post-election official data now shows that glowing picture of the growing Indian economy has dimmed as it grew slower than expected in the first three months of 2019.

After Modi had secured a second term, the official data came out showing the economy grew 5.8 percent, down from 6.6 percent in the previous quarter while the pundits were expecting 6.3 percent growth in the the said quarter.

With these figures, the incoming Finance Minister Sitharaman, the Prime Minister Modi and the Reserve Bank of India are facing a task to provide stimulus to the economy as India’s domestic consumption drives the Indian economic growth.

Sitharaman previously held the commerce and defense ministries during Modi’s first term, and she now takes over the reins of a faltering economy which has suffered on many fronts resulting in the worst unemployment figures in years. To revive the economy and generate jobs on a war-footing will be a challenge for the new finance minister Sitharaman, the second woman to hold the post after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

We wish Indian Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet the best in the Modi 2.0 term.

(This appeared as editorial in June print edition)

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