Ashwini Vaishnaw who took over as the new Minister of Railways, Minister of Communications and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology was anonymous in political spheres just two years ago.
His ascent to crucial Ministries previously held by political bigwigs such as Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad was dramatic and meteoric in equal measure.
The search for a person to fulfil Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for Indian Railways as a key factor in driving the nation’s economy stopped at a man considered a political novice.
But, those who take a look at 50-year-old Mr. Vaishnaw’s career graph will see that he has a varied and vast experience in bureaucracy and corporate world, besides the reputation of being a silent and astute worker.
The Jodhpur-born Mr. Vaishnaw was a brilliant student from the beginning. After graduating with a gold medal in electronics and communications engineering course from Rajasthan’s Jai Narayan Vyas University in 1992, he pursued his M.Tech programme from IIT Kanpur. He immediately cracked the coveted civil service examination with an all-India rank of 27 in 1994.
During his short stint in Odisha bureaucracy, he worked as District Collector of Balasore and Cuttack, earning the reputation of an efficient administrator while being low profile.
Being tech-savvy, he was known for exploring new areas. In 1999, when access to internet was limited and most people were not conversant with it, the young Collector monitored the U.S. Navy prediction for the Super Cyclone. He alerted top administration about its intensity and was a major source of information during the crisis.
“I remember him as a bright and meticulous officer. During very short time, he was able to learn Odia and was very good at working as a team,” said Sahdeb Sahu, former Chief Secretary of Odisha.
In 2003, Mr. Vaishnaw moved to New Delhi to work as a Deputy Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime. When Vajpayee lost the general election in 2004, he became his private secretary. This was the period when Mr. Vaishnaw came into contact with many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who are at the helm of affairs now, Mr. Modi being one of them. Political pundits say his networking with BJP leaders has paid dividends now.
Two years later, Mr. Vaishaw was made Deputy Chairman of Marmugoa Port Trust. Following another two-year-stint, he left for the U.S. to pursue a MBA course from the prestigious Wharton School of Business, Pennsylvania.
The new Railway Minister was quoted saying that since he was in debt following his MBA course, he had to quit the IAS job. Subsequently, Mr. Vaishnaw worked for multinational companies such as General Electric and Siemens. During this tenure, he was exposed to infrastructure development in private sector.
Mr. Vaishaw had also tried his hand at entrepreneurial ventures by setting up industry for automotive components manufacturing in Gujarat. In 2017, he joined the board of Triveni Pellets Private Limited, a sister concern of Triveni Earthmovers Private Limited led by B. Prabhakaran, who was later named in the M.B. Shah Commission report on the massive mining scam in Odisha.
His dramatic entry into politics came in 2019 when he was named as a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. However, half an hour later, a clarification came. Mr. Vaishnaw filed nomination as a BJP candidate. Mr. Modi had apparently made a call seeking BJD’s support for his new Cabinet colleague. The BJD extended its support and ensured his election to the Upper House.
Mr. Vaishnaw’s name for induction into Mr. Modi’s Cabinet had been making the rounds for a while. According to BJP sources, the new Minister had been working closely with core groups on many policy matters.
“Took charge as Cabinet Minister of Railways today. Once again from the core of my heart, I extend my gratitude to Hon’ble PM @narendramodi ji for entrusting me this responsibility. @RailMinIndia,” said Mr. Vaishnaw on Twitter with which he has to deal as new IT Minister.