Finance Ministry Expected To Collapse- With Jaitley Out Of Action, Fin Sec Adhia Is Going On Leave With A Baba.
With the Prime Minister also busy in campaigning in Karnataka, the Modi government is a Plane without a Pilot.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has not attended office for a month as he awaits a kidney transplant. Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia has also taken leave for an unusually long period of 16 days to go for a yoga/meditation holiday with his guru Swami Visharadanand Saraswathy to Mysuru. Adhia will be on leave from tomorrow, May 5 to May 20. Expenditure secretary A N Jha is expected to officiate in his absence.
The absence of the finance ministry’s Top Two will effectively leave it headless. Their absence raises serious questions about who is minding the ship and fundamental governance of the Modi government.
While Modi keeps harping on good governance, keeping the Finance Ministry headless—especially after the contentious and troubled roll-out of the Goods and Services tax (GST), the ever-unfolding Rs 13,000 crore Nirav Modi Ponzi scam in PNB, the second largest state-owned bank, the ICICI bank’s Chanda Kochhar’s name cropping up in the Videocon scam, the unleashing of the tax inspector raj by the Finance Ministry, zero growth in exports in the past four years, and the still lingering effects of the suicidal demonetisation—is likely to paint a very troubled picture in the general election season.
Adhia was recently in the eye of the storm after I revealed, and he confirmed, that he had received gold biscuits from an “anonymous gifter” during his tenure as Revenue Secretary. Adhia told me that he had deposited the gold in the “Toshkhana”, but he did not make a complaint with the police or the CBI in what was an obvious attempt at bribing a senior official.
While Jaitley seems indispensable to Modi, an absentee FM leaves a gaping hole in governance. Adhia, a Gujarat cadre IAS official who has worked for long periods with Modi when he was Gujarat CM, is also known to be exceptionally close to the PM.
It is quite unusual for him to be going on a long leave at this critical juncture, especially as the two deputy ministers in the Finance Ministry are quite clueless about their portfolio and have hardly been delegated any work by Jaitley, their boss.
The two ministers of State in Finance are Sri Pratap Shukla, from Gorakhpur with no background in complex finance, and Pon Radhakrishnan who is also pretty uncertain about his brief.
North Block is abuzz as to why Adhia would choose to go on a long leave. Various theories are doing the rounds. BJP MP and troublemaker Subramanian Swamy has launched a fierce attack on him, alleging that he and Jaitley were behind what Swamy has termed the “GSTN scam”. Today, Swamy used his favourite weapon of war—Twitter—to say, “I demand that Finance Secretary Adhia be transferred to another ministry like textiles for his role in the GSTN scam”.
Adhia was a front-runner to be Cabinet Secretary, the top-most post in the civil services. But with Swamy’s relentless public attacks and the gold controversy dogging him, his chances seem to have dimmed.
Normally, secretary-level officials in critical ministries don’t take a long leave unless they are unwell or someone in their family is. Adhia’s leave to go to a wellness retreat has certainly raised questions as it the first case of its kind.
The bigger issue is why can the country not have a functioning Finance Ministry? Jaitley’s well-entrenched media network may plant stories on how it is business as usual in the ministry, the truth is that it is not.
Jaitley is on dialysis twice a week and is kept in a sanitised immune zone for fear of infections. He cannot attend office and even after the transplant, the date of which is not certain, he will need to recuperate for several months. A sign outside his house says: “Visitors Not Allowed.”
Surely Modi instead of keeping control via Adhia could have given the ministry as a temporary charge to another minister.
Sources say that all crucial work is suffering, and with Adhia on leave, the ministry will grind to a halt.
As it is, Modi is busy campaigning in Karnataka where he will address 17 rallies. Meanwhile even after 70 people died in Uttar Pradesh in a natural disaster in UP, the State’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath continued to campaign in Karnataka attacking “jihadis”. After another storm was forecast for today, he left for Agra.
Like most things in Modi’s era, good governance is only an election slogan. This will be most evident in the form of a headless Ministry of Finance from tomorrow.