Arun Jaitley, a senior leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a top corporate lawyer, has been named India’s new Finance Minister, tasked with turning the nation’s flagging economy around and restoring the confidence of foreign investors. He was sworn into the Cabinet on Monday along with India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Jaitley, 61, does not inherit an easy job. India’s growth has dropped from over 9% five years ago to less than 5% in recent years. Retail inflation is high, and the fiscal deficit is deep. One of Modi’s chief campaign promises was to get India’s economy back on track. The BJP’s majority in Parliament is widely expected by observers to help his administration do that.
"The challenges are very obvious,” Jaitley said in a press conference after he was named, according to NDTV. “We have to restore back the pace of growth, contain inflation and obviously concentrate on fiscal consolidation itself.”
Jaitley served in several ministries in the last BJP-led coalition government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He is said to be a longtime ally of Modi, both after the 2002 Gujarat riots and later when rifts among the BJP's leadership emerged over Modi’s appointment as prime-ministerial candidate last fall. Jaitley has also been the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of Parliament. This election, he stood for a seat in Lok Sabha, India’s lower house, vying for a constituency in Amritsar in the northern state of Punjab, but lost.
Jaitley will also temporarily be in charge of the Defense Ministry. Other key appointments in Modi’s new government include senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who will be the new Minister of External Affairs, and Rajnath Singh, who will be the new Home Minister in charge of securing India against terrorist threats, among other responsibilities.