Jaitley’s Uncharacteristic Reticence
- After a brief appearance in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was intermittently present in the Upper House as the Opposition continued with its protests
- Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das took the lead in making announcements pertaining to the demonetisation scheme
- Jaitley’s silence is in sharp contrast to the time when he took pains to explain to the public the nitty-gritty of the GST Bill
- But his general reticence in the backdrop of Modi’s demonetisation move has led to whispers that Jaitley was kept out of the loop by the Prime Minister
Nine days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent shockwaves throughout the country by declaring that a staggering Rs 14 lakh crore would no longer be legal tender, the silence of the usually voluble and visible Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is deafening.
But for a brief appearance in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, following which a united opposition time and again made vociferous demands for the Prime Minister’s presence in the House, Jaitley -- who is the Leader of the Rajya Sabha -- was intermittently present in the Upper House in the face of the repeated adjournments.
Jaitley usually wastes no time to respond to attacks by Opposition leaders, especially Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. There have been several occasions in the past when the Finance Minister took to making caustic repartees to Rahul’s jibes, replying strongly and not missing any opportunity to humble Rahul.
Even after Rahul specifically and categorically asserted that “I believe even Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not know about this move by the PM”, Jaitley remained uncharacteristically silent, leaving a lot for speculation.
On Thursday, Jaitley had an opportunity to set the record straight but he chose silence yet again. This has fuelled suspicions that by not responding to the specific question he had only confirmed that he was not part of Modi’s secret move to demonetise the high value currency notes.
All this has also left political observers wondering why Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu were fielded to defend the government in the Rajya Sabha on November 16, the opening day of Parliament’s winter session.
Jaitley did make a few announcements on Thursday – on recalibration of 22,500 ATMs, limiting the exchange of the withdrawn Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes to Rs 2,000 per day and ruling out the reintroduction of the Rs 1,000 note. But all this is not startlingly new and was already known as the day began. In fact, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das appears to have taken the lead in explaining the demonetisation move. Das briefed the press on Wednesday on the government’s partial rollback of some of its previous measures.
Is Jaitley’s silence and non-visibility within and outside Parliament a reflection of his personal anguish as he is said to have been kept out of the loop on the move? There have been whispers in the corridors of power that the finance minister was kept out of the Prime Minister’s loop of top bureaucrats with whom he brain-stormed (if at all there was much brain-storming) and worked out the half-baked policy shift that has caused immeasurable hardship to people?
Also read: Currency Ban Is Tearing Rural Banks Apart
Jaitley made a rather sedate appearance on national television on the day Modi left for an official visit to Japan as people struggled to make sense of the ill-conceived and poorly-planned demonetisation step. Otherwise, Jaitley has neither taken the trouble to explain to people the massive problems associated with Modi’s potentially reckless decision nor has he offered cogent solutions to them. Unusually and uncharacteristically, a normally glib Jaitley has remained mute this time.
This is in sharp contrast to the pains the Finance Minister took to explain to people, by using and appearing on every available media, print and electronic, the nitty-gritties of the Goods and Services Tax, or for that matter, simplifying the fine print of the budget proposals earlier this year.
Many senior BJP worthies, some of whom are also Cabinet ministers, initially made hasty appearances on TV news channels. But they subsequently slunked away from public view as public anger rose – and continues to rise – amid unprecedented opposition unity, especially with elections in UP, Punjab, Manipur and Goa looming large.
But it is the stories around the Prime Minister’s cold-shouldering of Jaitley on the critical issue of demonetisation that have caught the media and the opposition’s attention.