Cabinet rejig: Piyush Goyal to run finance; Irani removed from I&B ministry

Cabinet rejig: Piyush Goyal to run finance; Irani removed from I&B ministry

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was promoted as Minister of State (independent charge) for the I&B ministry

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal has emerged the chief troubleshooter for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the past couple of years. On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned to Goyal to take over the reins of the finance ministry while Arun Jaitley recovers from an operation.

The communique from the President’s House said Goyal had been “temporarily assigned” the portfolios of finance and corporate affairs during “the period of indisposition” of Jaitley. He would continue to hold the railways and coal ministry portfolios.

The PM took the opportunity to effect a minor reshuffle of his council of ministers, including ending Smriti Irani’s nearly nine-month controversy-ridden stint as information and broadcasting (I&B) minister. Irani will continue to be textiles minister. Irani was given the additional I&B portfolio after M Venkaiah Naidu was elected vice-president in August.

In the past couple of months, Irani had run-ins with Indian Information Service officers, with Prasar Bharati chief A Surya Prakash and also with the media, with a circular issued by the I&B ministry interpreted as an effort to stifle press freedom. Earlier this month, many of the national film awardees boycotted the ceremony after they came to know they would not be receiving their awards from the President, and the ministry was blamed for not conveying the news and bringing disrespect to the President’s office. She was divested from human resource development portfolio in July 2016 amid controversy.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was promoted as Minister of State (independent charge) for the I&B ministry. He was junior to Irani at the I&B ministry.

Rathore will continue to be the MoS (independent charge) of the youth affairs and sports ministry.In other changes, Alphons Kannanthanam, known as K J Alphons, has been relieved of his charge as the MoS in the electronics and information technology ministry. The ministry is headed by Ravi Shankar Prasad. Alphons will continue to be MoS (independent charge) of tourism ministry.S S Ahluwalia has been relieved of his charge as MoS in the drinking water and sanitation ministry, and will now replace Alphons as the junior minister in the electronics and IT ministry.

Goyal’s appointment is consistent with the recent trend of second-rung party leaders being given key portfolios. In the last comprehensive reshuffle of the council of ministers in September, Nirmala Sitharaman was given the defence portfolio.In the same reshuffle, Goyal had been asked to take care of the railways portfolio after his performance as the power minister received praise. Goyal’s appointment comes despite recent allegations of his business dealings before his time as a minister.

When Goyal, a chartered accountant and a former investment banker, was only an MP in the Rajya Sabha, he had a perpetual grouse: that none of what he said ever found its way in print. But he persevered, hammering away indefatigably at the media-public opinion edifice, noting the fine print of the Budget presented by the then UPA finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that brought into focus the taxation matter that is now known as the Vodafone case: that companies operating in the Indian jurisdiction must pay tax.

Goyal was also one of the architects of the BJP’s ideas on transforming the economy in a way that would help the party’s growth as much as it helped India’s. Many of the ideas on urbanisation, recasting tier-two cities so that they become hubs of growth, making civil aviation the driving force in urbanisation were mooted by Goyal and Jaitley and found their way into the party’s manifesto in 2014.

Goyal reckons he has outgrown the nightwatchman role he will have to play during Jaitley’s indisposition. He has his own opinions on how the economy should be run – and possibly these might be at variance with those of Jaitley’s. So, questions do arise on who will be running the finance ministry — the PMO; Jaitley by proxy; or Goyal.

The Business Standard, New Delhi, 15th May 2018

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