Suspense on finance berth

Arun Jaitley

he unassailable majority of the BJP-led coalition has shrunk the once-familiar space for post-result speculation around government formation but the vacuum has been filled by questions on who will be the finance minister.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley has given no indication in public that he wants to step aside, and reviewed the economic situation with senior officials at his residence on Friday. Some saw in the meeting a subtle signal that he was capable of running the ministry.

However, an element of conjecture has crept up after media reports suggested poor health might stand in the way of Jaitley’s continuation in the finance ministry.

Besides, in case Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to accommodate Amit Shah in the government, finance is a portfolio that not only matches the BJP president’s stature in the party but also forecloses the need to dislodge other senior figures.

The Reuters news agency reported during the day that “four sources with knowledge of the matter” had said that Jaitley was unlikely to continue in his current role because of his poor health.

“He is definitely not taking the post of the finance minister, simply because he is very unwell,” one of the sources, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. “If at all, he might take up a less stressful role.”

The news agency added that Jaitley had not returned messages and that his mobile phone did not ring. His officer on special duty, Paras Sankhla, did not respond to calls, mail and messages. Jaitley’s personal secretary S.D. Ranakoti and assistant secretary Padam Singh Jamwal did not immediately respond to an email, Reuters added.

The economy is showing major signs of a slowdown after three consecutive years of 7-per-cent-plus growth rates, and the next finance minister is expected to seek to provide some economic stimulus.

Amit Shah

Amit Shah(PTI)

No one in the BJP, barring Modi and Shah, knows who will get which portfolio. But that has not prevented speculation from swirling.

BJP chief Shah’s maiden entry into the Lok Sabha with a big victory from the Gandhinagar seat, which used to be represented by L.K. Advani, has led several party leaders to believe that he could get the Number Two position in the government with an important portfolio.

Shah, sources said, could get home or finance. But many feel that as veteran leader Rajnath Singh is the home minister, he may not be disturbed right now.

“Nobody knows for sure whether Amitbhai will join the government or not. If he decides to, the ministry would certainly be of his choosing,” a BJP leader said.

With the BJP making dramatic inroads into Bengal and eyeing the Assembly polls in 2021, the state could get a significant share in the government, party leaders said.

Modi and his council of ministers on Friday tendered their resignations to President Ram Nath Kovind, clearing the decks for a second innings at the Centre.

The date for the swearing-in has not been formally announced, but sources said May 30 was being considered.