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Jaitley unlikely to be finance minister as PM Modi begins work on new cabinet
Arun Jaitley | Photo Credit: VCCircle

A day after winning the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is getting down to the task of forming a new cabinet—especially the economic ministries—given that the budget must be presented within a month.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party romped home with 302 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, according to results declared by the Election Commission. Along with its allies, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has secured 351 seats.

There is no official word yet on when Modi would take the oath of office along with his council of ministers, but some media reports claim that it could take place on May 30. This would give the new ministers enough time to pitch in for the budget and also to shift the focus back on fixing big problems such as slowing economic growth.

The council of ministers is likely to see some big changes in the wake of the election victory and considering the poor health of some outgoing ministers.

For one, India is likely to get a new finance minister as Arun Jaitley, who is unwell and underwent a kidney transplant last year, is unlikely to be retained this time. In fact, Jaitley couldn’t deliver the interim budget earlier this year and railway minister Piyush Goyal had to stand in for him.

News agency Reuters reported, citing four sources with knowledge of the matter, that Jaitley is unlikely to continue in his current role due to poor health.

Although there is no official word on whether Jaitley could be dropped from the cabinet or who might replace him, speculation is rife that Goyal or highways minister Nitin Gadkari could enter the North Block. Both Goyal and Gadkari have handled economic or infrastructure portfolios before.

BJP president Amit Shah may also be considered for the finance minister’s post, news reports say. Earlier, it was being speculated that Shah, who won by a landslide in Gandhinagar in Gujarat, could be made either the deputy prime minister or the home minister. But if that happens, then Modi will have to find a suitable position for home minister Rajnath Singh, who is currently the second in command in the cabinet and has been in charge of the government whenever Modi has been on a foreign tour.

If Singh is moved out of the home ministry, he could perhaps get defence. But that will mean finding a new portfolio for the incumbent Nirmala Sitharaman, who was promoted to be in charge of the sensitive ministry; she was earlier handling the commerce ministry.

Modi will also have to decide on where foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, who also underwent a kidney transplant, will have to be accommodated. Owing to her health, Swaraj didn’t contest the elections and will have to be brought into the parliament via the Rajya Sabha if she is made a minister. Veteran leaders have, in the past, been given governorships of states, if they are not being accommodated in the cabinet.

Other ministers who could be shuffled include junior civil aviation minister Jayant Sinha and commerce minister Suresh Prabhu. Sinha has also served in the finance ministry. Before joining politics, Sinha was a partner at McKinsey and also worked with private investment firm Omidyar Network.

Modi may also promote Smriti Irani, who has defeated Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his family’s bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Irani, a former education minister, came into the limelight, when she was brought in as a cabinet minister even after losing to Gandhi in Amethi in the last Lok Sabha election.

Finally, although the BJP on its own is placed comfortably above the halfway mark of 272, it may also accommodate some of its allies. That will mean again inducting ministers from parties such as the Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United), the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Lok Jan Shakti Party, among others.

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