Ashwini Vaishnaw, India’s new IT minister, is a former IAS, ex-IITian, Wharton School graduate and PM Modi’s most prized ministerial pick


NEW DELHI: The massive Union Cabinet expansion carried out on Wednesday bears the techno-managerial imprint of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is known to be a hard taskmaster himself and gave preference to experience and qualifications while shaping his new cabinet.

In his first term, PM Modi persisted with around 58 ministers in the Council of Ministers when the slogan was “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”.

More or less, this number has persevered although now with 43 new members, the Council of Ministers now stands at 77, the highest in this government`s tenure.

It also marks the realisation that multiple portfolios with one minister may not be a very efficient ploy and representation needs to be given to different regions and for administrative efficiency, adequate numbers are required.

PM Modi’s new Council of Ministers has four former Chief Ministers in the Cabinet, 18 former state ministers, 39 former MLAs and 23 MPs who have been elected for three or more terms.

This demonstrates the wealth of experience in the new Cabinet as the government has been criticised for lack of bench strength and not enough heft in administrative experience.

The new ministers will also be an eclectic mix of distinguished qualifications including 13 lawyers, 6 doctors, 5 engineers, 7 former civil servants, 46 ministers with experience in central government.

One such highly qualified member of the Modi cabinet is Ashwini Vaishnaw  – 
A former IAS, ex-IITian and Wharton School graduate.

Vaishnaw, the bureaucrat-entrepreneur-turned-politician, took charge as the country’s new Information Technology and Railway Minister on Thursday

As a railway minister it would be one of his biggest challenges to successfully see the operationalisation of private trains on the railway network for the first time in Indian history.

He will also be instrumental in overseeing the cadre restructuring, which has already been initiated by his predecessor Piyush Goyal.

Vaishnaw’s entry comes at a time when the national transporter has been mulling ways of generating non-fare revenue through different streams, through leasing out its vast pool of vacant land and most importantly, opening up for Public Private Partnership (PPP) for its trains and stations.

The railways has been pushing for more and more private investments to upgrade its facilities and to take on competition from domestic airlines, which are nibbling at its AC class passengers.

A former IAS officer of the 1994 batch, he handled important responsibilities for over 15 years and was particularly known for his contribution to the public-private partnership (PPP) framework in infrastructure, something that will help him in the rail sector.

Post that, he has held leadership roles across major global companies such as General Electric and Siemens.

He has an MBA from Wharton School, Pennsylvania University and an M.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur. Vaishnaw will also hold two other important portfolios of Minister of Communications and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology.

The entry of Vaishnaw in the Union cabinet comes two years after he surprised all in Odisha’s political circles when he was elected to the Upper House of Parliament as a BJP candidate despite the saffron party lacking the required numbers to send a member to Rajya Sabha.

The 51-year-old BJP leader, born in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, is a suave and a former Odisha cadre IAS officer from the 1994 batch. He managed to wrangle support from the ruling BJD president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik despite being in the rival camp.

This happened in spite of criticism and objections by many within the ruling BJD. Allegations were traded that the BJD supremo succumbed to Narendra Modi-Amit Shah’s pressure in supporting Vaishnaw. He was inducted into the saffron party barely six days ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections on June 28, 2019.

Just about two years later, he has landed himself a job in the country’s cabinet ahead of veteran saffron leaders from Odisha. His batch-mate and Lok Sabha member from Bhubaneswar, Aparajita Sarangi, who won the 2019 elections after defeating the BJD candidate and former Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik, was among the frontrunners in the race for a ministry.

During his stint as an IAS officer, Vaishnaw worked as the District Magistrate-cum-Collector of Balasore and Cuttack districts. His bureaucratic acumen, in fact, came to the fore when the super cyclone hit Odisha in 1999, killing at least 10,000 people.

As a collector of the coastal Balasore district, Vaishnaw collected information on the cyclone from a US Navy website and sent reports to the chief secretary at regular intervals. His information helped the state government to take advanced measures in order to save lives.

Vaishnaw worked in Odisha till 2003, before being appointed as deputy secretary in the office of former prime minister A B Vajpayee. He was later appointed as Vajpayee’s private secretary after the NDA lost the election in 2004. He quit government service in 2008 and went to Wharton University in the USA to pursue an MBA. 

On his return, after working for top firms, he set up his own automotive components manufacturing units in Gujarat. Interestingly, in April, Vaishnaw was nominated as a member of the Press Council of India, for three years. 

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