Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has elevated his closest political ally and election mastermind to a critical cabinet post overseeing internal peace and security after a divisive campaign that made many liberals and minority Indians nervous.
Amit Shah, previously president of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and architect of the party’s win, was named India’s new home – or interior – minister, giving him oversight of critical internal security issues and placing him in the top rung of the new cabinet.
During the campaign, in which Modi and the BJP surpassed even the most optimistic predictions to win a landslide victory, Shah was accused of exploiting communal fault lines by promising to rid the country of all “infiltrators” in an apparent swipe at Muslims and other religious minorities.
Shah’s post was revealed as Modi announced Friday which jobs would be held by his cabinet – a day after he took the oath of office for a second straight term.
Another new entrant in government, former top diplomat S Jaishankar, takes over as the political master of his old department – responsible for overseeing India’s relations with the world.
Jaishankar is a former Indian ambassador to both China and the United States. He was still serving as the country’s foreign secretary in New Delhi when an Indian military installation in the disputed Kashmir region was attacked in 2016. India accused suspected Pakistan-based militants of the attack and, in response, launched what it said were surgical strikes across its de facto border.
Rajnath Singh, the former home minister, moved to the defense ministry. Oversight of the economy was handed to Nirmala Sitharaman, formerly the defense minister.
She replaced Arun Jaitley, who bowed out of the running for a government role earlier this week, citing health reasons.
Analysts say the economy will be in the spotlight as Modi begins his second term, with the country’s agricultural industry showing signs of distress in recent months and the ongoing job creation crisis impacting the roughly 12 million Indians who enter the workforce each year.
When Modi first ran for office in 2014, his campaign was focused on the economy: he promised reforms to, among other things, boost growth and fix India’s jobs problem.
But five years later, in the recently concluded elections, Modi presented himself less as an economic reformer and more as a muscular nationalist leader – prompting questions about his priorities as he puts his new team in place.
Shah, Jaishankar and Sitharaman were among 24 cabinet ministers handed top jobs on Friday, along with a number of junior ministers handed portfolios. The new government’s first cabinet meeting was held in New Delhi on Friday afternoon.