India's cabinet: party loyalists and Modi's confidantes

NEW DELHI – The cabinet formed by India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the smallest in India's history since independence. Modi promised a smaller government and immediately delivered by appointing only 23 cabinet members and 22 Ministers of State -- essentially junior ministers.

Modi's mark has unmistakably been stamped on the cabinet; many of his allies have been rewarded with a ministerial berth. With an average of 61, it is relatively young. The oldest is 74-year old Najma Heptullah, the lone Muslim face and Minister for Minority Affairs. 

– Arun Jaitley: Finance and Defence Minister

From Delhi University campus to the cabinet offices in New Delhi. Arun Jaitley is a Punjabi Hindu Brahmin boy who gradually climbed the ladder of power, starting with student politics in 1970s when he was president of Delhi University's Students' Union. 

By profession a lawyer, it was Jaitley's strength as an orator, debater and strategist that helped him rise through the BJP's ranks. He has been in the parliament's upper house, the Rajya Sabha, since 2000 and remains there after losing in his attempt for a seat in the Lok Sabha. The fact that the loss has not prevented Modi from handing Jaitley two portfolio is testament to the influence Jaitley holds. 

Well-networked as a politician, his connections will be important, as will the confidence he holds amongst India's investors and middle classes. Jaitley’s biggest challenge will be to curb rising inflation, create job and kick-start a dwindling economy - the BJP's campaigning points during the election. 

It remains to be seen how Jaitley will strike a harmonious balance between industrialists and the common man on the street, the former salivating with a “pro-business” government in power while the latter anticipating job creation and a rise in per-capita income.

– Rajnath Singh: India’s new Home Minister

A physics professor, now India's federal home minister, Rajnath Singh has also positioned himself as a farmer leader along the way. The 62-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President has been affiliated with right-wing Hindu cultural organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since the age of 13 and it was with their help that he entered politics in 1974.

His loyalty to the organization means he does not make any major decisions without taking its viewpoints into account. He was at the forefront of the campaign to nominate Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate last year, when many senior party leaders were resisting the move.

– Sushma Swaraj: India’s new Foreign Minister

Daughter of a prominent RSS member, Sushma Swaraj entered the political limelight when in 1977, as a 25-year old, she defeated the four-time chief minister of Haryana state and became the youngest cabinet minister in the state government. Two years later she was the state president for the BJP's predecessor, the Janata Party.

An outspoken leader, Swaraj was one of the BJP leaders who opposed Modi's candidature but was, despite speculation to the contrary, appointed to Modi's cabinet -- and as only the second female foreign minister since former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Her tasks will be numerous: sorting disputes with neighbors China, Bangladesh and of course India's rival Pakistan, could be key to ensuring Modi's success.

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