With Jaitley unwell, Modi needs an FM who can tackle crucial political challenges
Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s renal failure is likely to keep him out action for some time. According to media reports he is likely to travel aboard for kidney- transplant surgery. Some reports have also suggested that the his surgery will be undertaken by doctors at the All India Institute of Medical sciences.
While Jaitley has been keeping unwell for sometime, the need for surgery is likely to make it difficult for him to undertake the pressure that finance ministry puts on the minister in charge, especially in the last year before the Loksabha elections. In the past, Jaitley has undergone bypass surgery for diabetes management.
Jaitley oversaw a very tumultuous tenure of Indian economy- during demonetization and Goods and Services Tax implementation- when growth fell by more than 2 percentage points in the first quarter of 2017-18.
India’s banking sector is also tottering with new an ever increasing rate of non-performing assets and busting of newer scams.
To keep the functioning of the economy smooth, it would be important for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that there is no policy paralysis at the finance ministry in the duration when Jaitley is away from work.
Another BJP cabinet minister- Sushma Swaraj- underwent a similar surgery last year, but the government could afford to have her on leave since it was PM Modi himself who is running the show of the foreign affairs minister since forming the government.
In the case of Jaitley, if he stays off the ministerial work for long, it could become difficult for the government to manage things like divestment, roll out of the mega health care scheme announced in 2018-19 budget by Jaitley himself and management of the agriculture sector which is under distress due to crash in prices of various commodities. The government will also have to firefight the opposition on the question of job creation in the country. This will require a fully fit finance minister on Modi’s side who could take the stress of working 24X7 in the run up to the elections.
Does BJP have an alternative to Jaitley?
Among the incumbent cabinet ministers there are a few candidates who are trusted by PM Modi for top jobs in his government. Among those Railways minister Piyush Goyal is formidable candidate for taking over the reign of the ministry of finance in case the Jaitley’s recovery takes longer. He is an accountant and was the brain behind the UDAY scheme that sought to de-stress India’s debt laden power distribution companies.
Another name who could be chosen for the top job from among the incumbent cabinet ministers is Suresh Prabhu. He is currently looking after the ministries of commerce & industries and civil aviation. The government is looking to sell Air India ltd this year and Prabhu would be in a better position to manage the deal as a finance minister.
There is another name that pops up from the among cabinet ministers for managing the finance department of the government. The man is Nitin Gadkari, who served as the president of BJP in the past. With strong backing in the RSS Gadkari can get his name recommended by the top dignitaries from the organization that provides the control the ideological framework and ground cadre for the BJP. He currently looks after the ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources.
Whoever steps into Jaitley's shoes, has a tough task at hand.