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Nirmala Sitharaman likely to be removed as Finance Minister

Prime Minister Narendra Modi might bring in a technocrat with core domain expertise to be Finance Minister

Wednesday December 11, 2019 11:41 PM, IANS

Nirmala Sitharaman

New Delhi: After the winter session of Parliament gets over, the government will have two issues at hand to focus on: emerging law and order situation in the North-East due to opposition of Citizenship Amendment Bill and reviving the Indian economy. While much of North-East's law and order will be handled by the respective states, the clouds over the economy could be the reason for a Cabinet reshuffle.

On Wednesday, Sushil Modi, Bihar's Deputy Chief Minister, was appointed as the convener of a Group of Ministers on Integrated Goods and Services Tax (IGST) replacing Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. This provided fillip to speculation on a change in the Finance portfolio. Sitharaman had met deputy chief ministers of Puducherry and Delhi, and finance ministers from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab on December 4, where all the states raised objections to the delay in payment of compensation. This decision, post that meeting, is being seen as a precursor to what may happen in case there is a cabinet reshuffle.

The Finance Ministry was quick to clarify and point to technicalities, saying the Finance Minister could not have headed the IGST panel since she is also chairperson of the GST Council. However, that clarification did not answer the question why Sitharaman was named as the convenor of the panel.

This is reason enough for the corridors of power to be abuzz with speculation that fixing the economy may start with change of Finance Minister. So who will take on the responsibility of the Ministry, at a time when GDP projections have tumbled to 5 per cent? While some in the corridors of power say it can be Piyush Goyal and his Railway Ministry will be given to someone else; others think Prime Minister Narendra Modi might bring in a technocrat with core domain expertise to be Finance Minister.

Modi has already experimented similarly by bringing in former Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar as Foreign Minister. Jaishankar is credited with managing international perception in favour of India post abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 this year.

A few fresh faces could be brought into the Modi cabinet. With Shiv Sena exiting the NDA, Arvind Sawant had to resign from the Union council of ministers. But, sources say BJP wants to bring in another Marathi-speaking orator in his place to counter Sena's growing anti-BJP rhetoric in Parliament. With NCP supporting the Sena, the BJP has reason to be apprehensive, given NCP's penetration in the Maratha heartland.

Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) stayed away from the swearing-in after being given just one cabinet portfolio, when Modi 2.0 came to power. With Nitish Kumar standing by BJP on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), in spite of inner-party friction, the BJP may reward JD(U), at the Centre. Also, with seat sharing arrangements reaching a finality, the BJP wants to make the 'deal' sweeter for JD(U).

With 11 MPs of AIADMK, which stood rock solid behind the Modi government over the CAB in the Rajya Sabha, the Tamil Nadu party too may get one ministerial berth in the upcoming reshuffle.

A young face from the North-East may be brought in to articulate the government's stand in those states. "Someone new maybe... Someone who can talk well, talk powerful," said a BJP source.

But the cabinet reshuffle, if it does take place, will happen after the Jharkhand Assembly election results are out on December 23.

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