He may not be a household name but Ashwini Vaishnaw, who joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s team on Wednesday, has emerged as a star player with responsibilities of Ministry of Railways, the Ministry of Communications, and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
The appointment of Vaishnaw, 50, who made a surprise entry straight into the Union Cabinet without any stint as Minister of State, came following the shock exit of Ravi Shankar Prasad, one of the government’s loudest defenders.
Stint with Global Firms
An M.Tech from IIT Kanpur and MBA from Wharton School, Pennsylvania University, Vaishnaw is known for his contribution to the public-private partnership (PPP) framework in Infrastructure. On his return from the US he worked with some top companies and leadership roles across major global firms like Siemens and General Electric in the past. In 2012, he quit the corporate sector set up manufacturing units of automotive components in Gujarat.
Key Role During 1999 Super Cyclone
His bureaucratic acumen caught people’s attention during the super cyclone in Odisha in 1999 when he spent his long shifts tracking the cyclone on US Navy website and followed it up by intimating Chief Secretary’s office on regular intervals. His efforts helped the state government take measures in advance and several lives were saved. “He tracked the cyclone every hour and sent a report to the chief secretary at regular intervals, which became a major source of information for the Odisha government about the cyclone,” an official who then worked in the chief secretary’s office recalled.
A 1994-batch IAS Officer from Odisha cadre and gold medalist in Bachelor of Engineering (BE) from the Jai Narayan Vyas University in Jodhpur, Vaishnaw served as a Collector in Odisha’s Balasore and Cuttack districts. While a Collector in Balasore, the National Human Rights Commission placed on record its appreciation of the sincerity, dedication and commitment displayed by him in organising and executing relief and rehabilitation work in his district.
When Modi-Shah Vouched for the Technocrat
Born in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, Vaishnaw managed to wrangle support from the ruling BJD president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik despite being in the rival camp. Patnaik gave him outright support after PM Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah made it clear that they want the ex-bureaucrat in the Upper House. He was inducted into the BJP barely six days ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections on June 28, 2019. Two years later, he landed himself a job in India’s cabinet ahead of veteran saffron leaders from the state of Odisha.
Personal Secretary to Vajpayee
Vaishnaw has also served in the PMO at the turn of the millennium. He was also the personal secretary to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee till 2003. In 2006, the technocrat became deputy chairman of Marmugoa Port Trust, where he worked for next 2 years, and then left for US to pursue an MBA. Vaishnaw was born in Jodhpur and completed his education from the state, earning a B-Tech degree in Electronics and Communications. He then got his M.TECH from IIT Kanpur, before cracking IAS in 1994 with an all-India rank of 27.
Political experts say that it is his wide experience in both public and private sectors that brightened his prospects and turned tables in his favour when Modi was finalising the names of ministers to be inducted in Wednesday’s reshuffle.