Why Arun Jaitley's exit from office is good for Modi

Whether or not the finance minister survives the DDCA scam, the PM is losing no sleep over the whole issue.

 |  6-minute read |   28-12-2015
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New Delhi chief minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal is fighting an uphill battle versus finance minister Arun Jaitley in the latest DDCA scam. Kejriwal has already won the first round big time.

Jaitley has had a blemish-free career and been excellent at media management. But the DDCA scam has already been covered for days on end, led to the suspension of BJP MP Kirti Azad and it is sure that skeletons will come out of the DDCA closet in the future.

But in one way, Kejriwal is fighting a losing battle. If Jaitley stays put, then it will be a loss of face for Kejriwal. But even if Jaitley is ousted from the Cabinet, then it may actually be good news for the BJP in the long run. There are many reasons for this.

For one, Jaitley has not been that successful as a finance minister. One prominent business daily has called him a Pranab Mukherjee 2.0, another headline called him Palaniappan Jaitley. Some have complained of lack of major reforms in most sectors.

One of the severest criticisms against Jaitley came from Arun Shourie who has termed government policy directionless. The industry has been more muted in their reaction, but they would not prefer to antagonise prime minister Narendra Modi directly.

There are a lot of leaders clamouring for a change in finance minister. While it will be tough for Modi to sack him outright, if the DDCA scam blows up then it will be easy for him to get a new finance minister and give a totally different shape and direction to the economy.

Secondly, if you note then the Enforcement Directorate has suddenly become very active and is conducting raids and probes left, right and centre. This has rattled many a politician. So the simple question is why was the ED sleeping for 18 months?

The ED is an extremely powerful arm of the finance ministry and the fact that it was virtually dormant for so long is quite baffling indeed and a negative for Jaitley. It has been totally quiet on the National Herald scam too.

Thirdly, Jaitley was supposed to be a bridge between all the parties including the Congress and that bridge has totally broken down. It is no secret that India's Left-leaning establishment is hostile to the Right-leaning BJP.

But Jaitley is supposed to be the ultimate insider. He is the Lutyen's Delhi veteran who had excellent ties with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and could strike a deal with her to get things done. But under him negotiations have completely broken down.

Modi and Jaitley were supposed to make an odd couple. Their respective strengths would boost the government, but that has clearly not happened.

The fourth factor derives directly from above:The absolute failure of the GST Bill. Rarely has any major Bill got such widespread consensus. The BJP wants it. Opposition leaders want it. The entire industry wants it.

Even Congress chief ministers want it.

It is a Grade I disaster and it has made Modi look like a mere weakling. Jaitley's failure has led to Modi's loss of face.

Fifth, Jaitley is also the information and broadcasting ministry. There are three main pillars of this. 1. Broadcasting. 2. Films. 3. Information. If you look at the third, then you'll realise that this government has totally failed.

The government is doing a whole lot of schemes and projects and nothing is getting across as all the time goes in countering controversies. Jaitley shares an excellent rapport in the media. His personal image is excellent (till the DDCA scam) while the government's image is in tatters in certain quarters.

That's not a team thing. Jaitley has to stop defending himself but defend the government or he should go.

Sixth-Do you know who the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabhais? Not many people are aware that such a post exists but it happens to be Jaitley. If we talk of accountability, then someone has to take responsibility for the absolute disaster that the last few Rajya Sabha sessions have been.

Seventh-In the pre-Modi era, the then Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley were the twin stars of the BJP. Today Jaitley has been totally overshadowed.

Modi's foreign policy has been spectacular and Sushma automatically takes some of the credit as she is Foreign Minister.

Coal reserves are at an all-time high, power cuts have reduced in many areas and nuclear fuel has been secured. We are marching towards a fully electrified India by 2022. Again power minister Piyush Goyal can take credit for that. He has promised to electrify all the villages and has transparently put up a website for that which people can monitor on a weekly basis.

The railways is always in the news for the right reasons whether its Tweets that get answered promptly or innovations that are coming in. Suresh Prabhu is being appreciated in all quarters. The defunct Dabhol power plant has been revived. It will give power to the Railways. That's a big win for both Goyal and Prabhu.

Infrastructure minister Nitin Gadkari is setting extremely ambitious plans. He has begun well and if he succeeds then India will be transformed in the years to come.

The truth is that Jaitley is no longer among the top performers of the BJP.

Modi and his team are trying to dream big and are slowly becoming indispensable. Not Jaitley. Nobody will regret the loss should he go.

Coming back to Kejriwal.

He gets victories with Modi in the short run, but Modi usually has the last laugh.

When Gadkari was party president, the opposition to Modi becoming Prime Ministerial candidate was the greatest. Kejriwal went after Gadkari. Gadkari was ousted. His replacement Rajnath Singh backed Modi from Day 1. It was an unexpected benefit for Modi indirectly from Kejriwal!

The BJP got overconfident in 2004, even 2009 and they were heading towards the same hubris when they won the 2013 Assembly elections. Kejriwal's ascent to the chief minister's chair and him being projected as a prime-ministerial candidate gave the BJP campaign a much needed kick.

In the 2015 Delhi elections, the BJP got absolutely plastered and that led to an Opposition revival till Bihar. However after that, Modi has got hardened as the sudden flurry of activity in the CBI and ED shows. BJP supporters are happy for that is what they wanted in the first place.

Coming back to the DDCA scam.

If Jaitley survives, then he knows it won't be business as usual and he'll have to prove himself once again.

If Jaitley goes, then a new finance minister will be appointed, who will be told to get on with it!

Either way one is sure that at least Modi is losing no sleep over the whole issue!

Writer

Sunil Rajguru Sunil Rajguru @sunilrajguru

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

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