Kharge is considered an unlikely figure for the task of pursuing a pro-reform agenda for Indian Railways. The 71-year-old socialist began his political life five decades ago as a trade unionist and has remained committed to the cause of empowering the deprived sections of Indian society.

In his administrative assignments in his home state of Karnataka – and more recently as the Indian labour minister – Kharge has largely been concerned with filling vacancies in government jobs, and he is expected to focus on recruitment for 22,000 unfilled posts at Indian Railways.

"Proposals for opening up production units for private participation or big ticket projects such as the high-speed rail are unlikely to get a big push forward in the coming months", a senior ministry official said.

With India's next general election scheduled for the start of next year, Kharge's tenure is likely to last only around six months, and he will not have the opportunity to present the next railway budget.

Nonetheless, supporters insist he will make an impact on Indian Railways. "It would be a fallacy to consider him a stopgap railway minister," a source close to the new Minister said. "He reads files meticulously; has a hands-on approach and will make the best use of the time available to him."

Kharge spelt out his priorities on June 18, saying that "filling vacancies on the Railway Board would be his first priority." Three key management positions, including the post of chairman, railway board will become vacant this month and there has been intensive lobbying among the candidates for these positions in recent weeks.

After months of controversy and scandal, another immediate focus will be to restore stability to Indian Railways.