Arun Jaitley opts out of new cabinet
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has opted out of the next government citing his poor health but added that he will be available to undertake any work “informally” to support the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Jaitley, one of the senior most members of the Union cabinet, and a trusted and long-time confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said this in a letter written to the Prime Minister, which he later tweeted.
The second National Democratic Alliance government headed by Narendra Modi will take office on Thursday with a swearing-in ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan on Thursday evening.
“During the last 18 months, I have had some serious health challenges,” Jaitley wrote in his letter. “I am writing to you to formally request you that I should be allowed a reasonable time for myself, my treatment and my health and, therefore, not be a part of any responsibility, for the present, in the new government.”
The 66-year-old lawyer-politician added in the letter that even though he was able to discharge responsibilities assigned to him during the campaign, he would, for some time, like to keep away from any responsibility. According to the letter, Jaitley verbally communicated his decision to Modi last week itself. Jaitley was in charge of publicity during the BJP’s campaign. He also wrote a series of blog posts on key election issues.
Later on Wednesday, Modi met Jaitley at his residence and inquired about his health, people with knowledge of the developments said. The meeting between the two leaders on Wednesday evening lasted about 25 minutes but the details of the discussions were not immediately known.
One of the strongest backers of Modi since his Gujarat days, Jaitley was also the chief troubleshooter for the Prime Minister in New Delhi during his first term. He handled key portfolios such as finance, corporate affairs, defence and information and broadcasting for varying periods as the BJP-let NDA sought to build bench strength. He was one of the moving forces behind the unifying Goods and Services Tax regime and worked closely with several states to make this happen. The much-needed bankruptcy code was also passed by the government on his watch.
Jaitley held the fort for the government in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is still in a minority. Jaitley’s rapport with several opposition leaders helped the government pass several hurdles in the upper house of the Parliament. Several opposition leaders, including Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leader Milind Deora, wished him well on Twitter.
His health, however, deteriorated towards the end of the Modi government’s tenure and he underwent a kidney transplant at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences last May.
That forced Jaitley to take a break, during which rail minister Piyush Goyal handled the finance portfolio. Jaitley was back in the finance ministry in August.
But his health forced him to take another break around the end of the year and in February, Goyal, again holding charge, presented the last budget of the Modi government.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Jaitley said it was a great honour and a learning experience for him to have been a part of the government led by Modi. He referred to his past stint as minister in the first NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other roles and wrote, “I could not have asked for more.”