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Smriti’s loss will be sports minister Rajyavardhan Rathore’s gain. The Olympic medallist, who was closely engaged with the Indian squad which participated in the Commonwealth Games and also served as junior minister in I&B, will now hold full scale charge of the ministry.
Irani’s remit has now shrunk to the textiles ministry in what is being seen as a second setback for the young politician who had earlier lost the crucial HRD ministry.
The fresh demotion comes in the wake of a string of contentious measures by the I&B ministry during her tenure. There had been speculation about her departure since the PMO, in an unusual public rebuke, ordered the reversal of the ministry’s controversial guidelines purportedly meant to tackle “fake news”. Sources close to Irani had insisted that the guidelines were never issued and blamed the fiasco on bureaucrats, but her removal suggests that the PMO thought otherwise.
The odds appeared to have lengthened further against her after her recent run-in with Rashtrapati Bhavan over the handling of the national film awards function.
The recent controversy over the national film awards function saw the President’s office conveying its unhappiness to the PMO, tipping the scales against Irani, who also took on Prasar Bharti and officers belonging to the Indian Information Service.
Interestingly, Rathore will be the Modi government’s fifth I&B minister in four years. Irani’s tenure lasted less than a year.
In stunning contrast, the new responsibility marks yet another boost for Goyal. With the addition, although temporary, of the responsibilities of finance and corporate affairs, he will have a sprawling jurisdiction along with railways and coal. In his new role as finance minister, Goyal will join the Cabinet Committee on Security, an important club which consists of the Prime Minister and the ministers of home, external affairs and defence.
Jaitley, who successfully underwent a kidney transplant, will be a “minister without portfolio until he recovers”. Top sources in the government emphasised that Goyal has been given charge of finance and corporate affairs as a stop-gap arrangement until the time Jaitley recovers.
In a late evening communique, Rashtrapati Bhavan also said that SS Ahluwalia would be the junior minister for electronics and information technology instead of KJ Alphons, the MoS (independent charge) for tourism.
Goyal, the BJP treasurer and a chartered accountant by training, has been given charge of the crucial finance ministry when has to iron out wrinkles in the implementation of goods and services tax (GST) and put the banking sector, grappling with a series of loan frauds and bad debt, back on track.
The finance ministry will also have to keep a close watch on revving up economic growth and keeping public finances under control against the backdrop of rising global crude oil prices.
Although Jaitley was attending to official work despite his ill health, the surgery at AIIMS on Monday will put him out of action for at least a couple of months, prompting to the PM to give the additional charge of the ministry to a person well versed with the nuances of the economy.
It also signals Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continued support for Goyal who was facing allegations related to the non-disclosure of the sale of his company to the Piramal Group, a charge that the minister has strongly rebutted.
Interestingly, unlike Irani who got the cabinet rank on her debut in May 2014, Goyal had to persevere as minister of state for coal and power before being promoted in September 2017.