New Delhi: Suresh Prabhu, the embattled railway minister who offered to step down after successive railway accidents, has proven that he still enjoys the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appointed him new commerce and industry minister on Sunday. Prabhu comes in place of Nirmala Sitharaman who has been elevated as defence minister—India’s second woman defence minister after Indira Gandhi.
Prabhu is currently a member of Rajya Sabha. He was union cabinet minister for six years when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. He was Prime Minister Modi’s sherpa for the G20 annual summit in the same year.
The last two years of Modi government will offer several challenges for Prabhu to prove his mettle. At the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations comprising the 10 Asean economies and its six trade partners, Prabhu faces the tough challenge of championing India’s trade interests at a time other countries are unwilling to open up their markets to Indian professionals. At the upcoming WTO Ministerial in Argentina’s Buenos Aires in December, Prabhu will push for a permanent solution on public stockholding for India’s food security, as promised by WTO members at the Bali Ministerial in 2012.
Experts will be looking for practical and viable solutions to take the country out of the current industrial slump with a new industrial policy that Sitharaman had announced to release by October. Prabhu will also have to finalise the new Foreign Trade Policy 2020-25 before demitting office in 2019, which will have to go beyond the current subsidy regimes provided to exporters which are not compliant with WTO rules.