As Jaitley Recovers, PMO May Oversee Finance Ministry For Few Months

No other minister will get temporary charge, which means finance secretary Hasmsukh Adhia will essentially run the ministry in Jaitley's absence.

New Delhi: As finance minister Arun Jaitley goes in for kidney transplant surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) – reported first in The Wire – he has informed the prime minister that he would need at least three months leave to fully recuperate.

Authoritative sources say that Modi will keep the critical finance portfolio with himself and no other minister will get temporary charge. This effectively means that finance secretary Hasmukh Adhia will de facto run the affairs of the ministry in Jaitley’s absence. Adhia, a Gujarat cadre IAS official and a long-time confidante of Modi, will liaise with the prime minister on a daily one-on-one basis. 

Modi is of the view that in the general election season, he cannot entrust the key finance ministry with any of his cabinet colleagues, authoritative sources confirmed.

This is quite a pointer to the bench strength of the Modi government.

The corporate affairs portfolio, which Jaitley also handles, is, however, likely to be handed over temporarily to someone else. Source say Modi had earmarked Piyush Goyal earlier but given recent controversies, the issue has not yet been settled.

Jaitley’s three-month convalescence has been insisted on by his nephrologist, Sandeep Guleria, who has actually had to bring forward the transplant as the finance minister’s health parameters were weakening. And when Jaitley was examined on Friday, he had water in his lungs, a side effect of kidney failure.

His original complaint was that of uneasiness in breathing.

Sources say that Modi is extremely worried that he will effectively be without his key aide in running the government. In view of the 2019 general elections, the prime minister has to focus the finance ministry on targeted welfare expenditure programmes. So North Block bureaucrats will effectively help the PMO in doing that.

Some senior BJP ministers may have been eyeing the plum position of finance minister, but their aspirations have been dashed.

Adhia is hoping that if he satisfies Modi as an effective stand-in for the finance minister, he may be rewarded with the highest post in the IAS – cabinet secretary.

The finance secretary is slated to retire this year but sources say that even if he misses out on being cabinet secretary, he will be re-employed by Modi till the end of the prime minister’s term.

The lobbying in the BJP and the cabinet has just begun with Jaitley, one of the biggest power players of the party, temporarily out of action. Even if the prime minister keeps the finance ministry to himself, hopefuls will still try to make their pitch until Jaitley fully recovers and comes back.