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Friday 10 July 2020

Fall Guy Jaitley?

Member of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Margdarshak Mandal Yashwant Sinha has fired yet another salvo at the government of the party, asking for Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s resignation from the Cabinet for imposing a “deeply flawed” goods and services tax on the nation. Since the inception of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, a phenomenon reminiscent of their predecessor has been noticed among the supporters’ base of the dispensation: The credit for all positive outcomes go to Prime Minister Narendra Modi while Jaitley takes the blame for everything between incremental, sluggish reforms in the economic system and lack of progress in the legal cases against media house NDTV. This is like the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi reductionism. It is paradoxical that the current regime’s critics and advocates alike also call it a one-man government. And few care to know that, before every annual Budget presentation, Jaitley calls on Modi repeatedly to fix every principal and subordinate clause and even punctuation marks of his speech.

While Jaitley was never an economist — let alone a renowned one — his selection to handle one of the most important portfolios paved an outsider Modi’s way to the intriguing, elitist, feudal, snobbish power circles of Lutyen’s Delhi. Jaitley’s economic reforms being piecemeal can be attributed to his lawyering background, which is expected to make one cautious in every move. Modi was himself never a die-hard, doctrinaire proponent of free markets, who wanted to sail ahead while Jaitley dropped anchor. The much-publicised Gujarat model is a combination of looking after business interests while simultaneously unleashing a plethora of welfare schemes. Since Gujarat had been traditionally richer, and even the Gujarati bureaucrat given to the requirements of dhandha, progress happened at a faster rate in the State under Modi’s rule in the period 2001-2014 than what has been witnessed nationwide post-2014.

There seems to be, however, some truism in the ‘stiff upper lip’ persona of Jaitley, and that is the most plausible explanation why he rushes to an NDTV to stay comfortable in the company of refined anchors — every time he must get some view broadcast — rather than deal with a howling news presenter of a rival channel. At the same time, if he is indeed the self-centred person he is made out to be, it is unlikely he would bend over backwards to come in the way of law to save Prannoy Roy, Radhika Roy & Co. That wouldn’t, however, stop the likes of another wannabe Subramanian Swamy from hatching conspiracy theories surrounding Jaitley, much as Swamy’s tirades are now giving him diminishing returns.

What is, finally, the idea of finding a scapegoat in Jaitley for all the ills that plague the Modi government? If it’s a strategy of the detractors, it aims at rendering Modi friendless in Delhi. If a large section of the supporters had, in the initial phase, walked into the trap, they are naïve. The speculation before any impending Cabinet reshuffle that Jaitley would be removed proved false. At least till the end of the present term of the government, he is going nowhere. He is a man Modi trusts. Not as a mark of gratitude to Jaitley for standing by his side when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was about to remove Modi from the post of the Chief Minister of Gujarat following the dreadful riots — Modi does not believe in indebtedness to anyone — but for the bilingual, suave, Jaitley being a man for all seasons for Modi.

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