NEW DELHI: Arun Jaitley who on Wednesday tweeted his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi excusing himself from the new cabinet will be remembered as the ultimate survivor at North Bloc.
After losing the elections to the prestigious Amritsar seat in the 2014 elections, many thought Jaitley would find himself sidelined by the newly formed Modi Government. However, with his connections within Lutyen’s Delhi and India Inc., he was considered too important a functionary and was given the prime job of India’s finance minister.
Many ran him down as a lawyer who was trying his hand at managing high finances. However, by the beginning of 2016, Jaitley as the successful finance minister of a two trillion dollar economy, growing at a clip faster than China, was the toast of his global colleagues and of the world media at the annual Davos meet of the World Economic Forum, an exclusive stomping ground for the world's richest men and women.
Before the year ended, with demonetization singeing India’s economic growth and daily new rules emanating from Jaitley’s office confusing all and sundry, the leader was however no longer being toasted by his peers. From 9.2 per cent GDP growth in the first quarter of 2016-17, India’s growth had slipped to 6 per cent by the first quarter of 2017-18. Growth did revive by the first quarter of 2018-19, only to keep sliding on the back of slow demand to an estimated 6.4 per cent by the quarter ended March 2019. Passenger car sales shrank by 17 per cent by April 2019, while the manufacturing contracted by 0.4 per cent in March this year.
A slack in tax collections, a shadow bank financial crisis and an unresolved bank bad loans issue kept haunting the end of his term, as also differences between two successive RBI Governors with the finance ministry.
However, despite his job travails, Jaitley remained indispensable in the corridors of power. When he underwent a liver transplant in April 2018 at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, he was replaced temporarily till August 23 by railway minister Piyush Goyal. However, possibly conscious of the danger of Goyal taking over permanently, Jaitley remained active on his twitter and facebook account often announcing Finance Ministry decisions ahead of any official announcements, even during his convalescence.
Officials said at that time they had a “tough” time reporting to two Ministers simultaneously. After taking their files for clearance to the acting finance minister, they often had to informally speak telephonically or pay a visit to a convalescent Jaitley on decisions that were being taken.
Earlier this year, just weeks before the interim budget was to be presented, Jaitley had flown to the United States for a `medical check-up’. Piyush Goyal again deputized for him by presenting the budget largely drawn up by him and finalized by the Prime Minister’s office.
However, he was soon back in action. And remained so till the dying days of the Modi 1.0 Government, holding meetings with RBI Governors and his own top secretaries days before saying `thus far and no more for the time being.’