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Answer To Who Is India’s Finance Minister Is As Clear As The Status Of Modi’s Degree

The number of accidents in Jaitley’s Finance Ministership is only matched by the number of rail crashes under Goyal.

Former Finance Minister, who is now described only as “union minister” — not even minister without portfolio, Arun Jaitley and “acting” Finance Minister Piyush Goyal are locked in a bizarre turf war. Both the ministers addressed an event yesterday (Jaitley via a video conference) and the red-faced organisers put out advertisements describing both of them as “Union ministers”. Does that mean India doesn’t have a Finance Minister now? Or does it have two of them now? It is as clear as the status of Narendra Modi’s graduation degree.

Jaitley is recuperating from his kidney transplant in the “sanitised surroundings of his home”, and is still calling himself “Union Finance Minister” in his Twitter bio while the official ministry website of the Ministry of Finance also describes him as “FM”. Yet a circular by the Cabinet Secretariat unequivocally states that “Goyal is the FM”.

Jaitley, as is his default mode, turned to his loyal band of “bureau journalists” who obligingly did plant news stories about how Goyal “did not even sit in the Jaitley Ministerial chair” – elevating it to Lord Ram’s paaduka, tended by Bharat. It included an incredible claim that Goyal “did not even allow officials to use the other chairs in the office”. The truth is that neither Goyal nor the officials are actually squatting on the floor in tribute to Jaitley! To the contrary, in a visible assertion of his ownership of the finance ministry, Goyal has installed a Ganesh statue in North Block. This has caused huge heartburn to the Jaitley groupies, but Goyal continues to revel in Jaitley’s misery.

Relentless Facebook posts on “half Maoists” and while talking about the Emergency, comparing Indira Gandhi to Hitler — forgetting that RSS luminaries have always held the Nazi leader in the highest esteem — have not quite ensured that Jaitley gets his corner office back. So a dizzying array of plants on his return to North Block with dates are now appearing in various newspapers. This has only ensured that Jaitley’s insecurity become highlighted making him a laughing stock in the Modi cabinet and BJP headquarters. Numerous stories about jokes on Jaitley’s blog posts are doing the rounds but remain unprintable. Even Jaitley’s RSS emissary Suresh Soni has not got much joy as he works hard to get Jaitley his coveted job back.

But Narendra Modi seems unmoved, he is, in fact, taking delight in humiliating Jaitley. The Prime Minister has obviously not forgotten that he once used to stay in a small one-room tenement in Jaitley’s quarters. Goyal is an instrument being used by Modi and Shah to show Jaitley his place in ‘New India.’ It fits in with the treatment meted out to the other CCS Minister, Sushma Swaraj, who has not even received a tweet of support from Modi or Shah.

So while this comical ministerial musical chair in the Finance Ministry continues, the economy reels from the lack of Modi’s much ballyhooed “good governance”. Not that Jaitley as a full-time Finance Minister for three years was not responsible for the downslide of the Indian economy. Even Goyal’s record as a minister in other ministries has been poor. The number of accidents in Jaitley’s Finance Ministership is only matched by the number of rail crashes under Goyal. After all, they are only trying to match up to the high standards of governance disasters unleashed by Modi, such as Demonetisation.

A quick recount of the downslide the Economy finds itself in today:

Indian Public sector banks are in trouble due to rising NPAs and an acute shortage of capital. The owner, the government, urgently either needs to find fresh capital or find other solutions.

Policy Holders of India’s largest life insurance are at risk as investments are being made for considerations other than generating a safe return on their hard earned money.

The Indian rupee is under pressure. This will get worse as the USA is likely to raise rates three or four times this year.

With international oil prices up and likely to remain high, India needs to carefully manage the trade deficit and resultant balance of payments problems.

India has no chief statistician or chief economic advisor. The previous chief statistician left office on 31 Jan 2018. It’s been close to five months since the post of India’s chief statistician was left vacant.

Major changes to the GDP calculation are not supported by back-series data. The government has not released back-series data on the new base year of 2011-12, making the historical comparison of growth numbers impossible. Similarly, the industrial production and employment data need serious work.

Without a chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanium who quit with just a year to go for his term will we have a robust economic survey?

Experts say that every time Modi opens his mouth on the economy he reveals his utter lack of domain knowledge – it reeks of the kind of learning provided by the RSS Shakhas – from saying that those frying “pakodas” have gainful employment to his latest gaffe that the jobs were created but there was no data, Modi’s claims lead to widespread ridicule. It vastly helped careers of upcoming makers of memes and stand-up comics.

More seriously, the reason for the lack of Employment data is that the government did not like what the data revealed about the lack of job creation and discontinued it. It tried to fudge it through a sponsored EPFO Study and has not appointed a Chief Statistical Officer so far.

While the economy goes in a tailspin just nine months ahead of elections, it is clear that it really does not matter who the FM is. Even if Modi were to himself take charge of the Finance Ministry, the result would be equally abysmal. But just for the sake of records, Mr ‘Strong’ Prime Minister, can we officially know WHO is India’s Finance Minister today? Or are there 56 of them!

 

Swati Chaturvedi is a Delhi based journalist.