Arun Jaitley and Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia, the bureaucrat handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be permanently out of the North Block. Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy is said to have played a key role in their ouster.
On the face of it, Jaitley has been relieved of the Finance and Corporate Affairs portfolios because of medical reasons. Railways and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal has been temporarily given the Finance portfolio pending Jaitley’s recovery from the kidney transplant surgery.
The official press release said that “during the period of indisposition of Shri Arun Jaitley, Minister; the portfolios of Minister of Finance and Minister of Corporate Affairs held by him, be temporarily assigned to Shri Piyush Goyal, in addition to his existing portfolios.”
What is noteworthy here, however, is the fact that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had also underwent a similar surgery not long ago, but she was not relieved of her charge.
Swamy, who is an eminent economist, has been critical of the policies and functioning of the Finance Ministry for quite some time. He has on record described Jaitley as “illiterate in economics.” It seems that he has managed to convince Prime Minister Narendra Modi that FinMin would be better without Jaitley.
It is doubtful if the Prime Minister would have needed much convincing. Notwithstanding his and his ministers’ claims, the economy has not performed as well as people expected it to, given the pro-development image of Modi. On the front of employment generation, the failure is most conspicuous—and may prove politically expensive.
As for action against the Finance Secretary, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader informed this correspondent that Swamy had told the Prime Minister that if action was not taken against the official, he may move the court for Adhia’s prosecution. It may be mentioned here that several cases of impropriety have been reported against him by various media organizations.
And yet, Adhia had the gall to eye the topmost bureaucrat position, that of Cabinet Secretary. But the incumbent, P.K. Sinha, managed to get a one-year extension. A sulking Adhia reportedly sought refuge in a Mysore-based yoga and meditation centre.
In March this year, it was reported that Adhia had received a couple of gold biscuits of 20 grams each from a ‘mystery giver’ during Diwali in 2016. Worse, neither he nor Jaitley ordered an inquiry to find out the identity. Immediately after the report, Swamy wrote a letter to the Prime Minister seeking an investigation.
There were more than murmurs about Adhia’s questionable role in the Finance Ministry. There was a hint of his proximity with PNB scamsters Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
Adhia’s role in other matters has been less than impressive. Implementation of the goods and services (GST) has been pathetic, hurting the small business and adversely impacting the economy. Then there was the issue of GST Network or GSTN; it was only after Swamy’s intervention that GSTN has become government-owned, which it should have been right from the beginning.
It seems that the improprieties of and mismanagement by the Jaitley-Adhia duo exasperated the PM, resulting in their exit.