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Being Defence Minister was Great, but Finance Ministry is Also Important: Arun Jaitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was also in-charge of the Defence Ministry, praises his successor Nirmala Sitharaman. Says the ministry has gone to a competent woman, who has worked her way up to reach here.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18pallavighcnnibn

Updated:September 3, 2017, 3:59 PM IST
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New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was also in-charge of the Defence Ministry, says the ministry has gone to a competent woman, who has worked her way up to reach here. CNN-News18’s Pallavi Ghosh caught up with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley after Sunday’s Cabinet reshuffle and the announcement of portfolios. Excerpts:

Q. Mr Jaitley, are you very, very relieved, because you had been open about the fact that you didn’t want to be Defence Minister?

A. I must say that I enjoyed every minute of being the Defence Minister. I loved the job. I have had two opportunities to work in this ministry and I think the systems in the ministry are excellent, particularly dealing with the Armed forces and the bureaucracy of the ministry was excellent.

I have a sense of satisfaction that in a brief period, from strategic partnerships to implementing the pay commission, to sorting out anamolies in the pay commission report, we were able to sort a lot of issues. We were able to make headway on defence purchases and my last decision, with regard to streamlining the ordnance factories to the core areas and excluding the non-core areas, having 56,000 personnel shifted from non-essential areas, I think these were important directional changes which came about. It’s a great job, but the Finance Ministry is also important.

Q. Also you're in charge of the Gujarat election...

A. It was not possible to take care of these two ministries for an indefinite period. The Prime Minister and I were both aware of this constraint. One should be holding only one job of this kind. And I am happier in the fact that I now have a very competent successor who's worked her way up in the last several years. She's proved herself in every job and she's earned that place for herself.

Q. You have two women in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), that's a huge message that the government is wanting to send out, and the Prime Minister himself.

A. I can tell you that both these ladies who we have in the CCS — Ms Sushma Swaraj and Ms Sitharaman —have established competence and both are recognized as ladies with substance, who have earned a frontline position. I think it’s a great thing not only for India, but globally, it sends out a message.

Q. Also at a time when women are insisting that they want to get into the Armed forces in a combat role.

A. That's one area where I wasn't able to do much, but Nirmala Ji will do.

Q. The opposition is already running off the reshuffle saying it’s a cosmetic change, and that there's a lack of talent in the government and that's why you're falling back on bureaucrats.

A. The UPA can't say this, they had a quasi-bureaucrat as the Prime Minister. And who are these people? Mr Hardeep Puri, a man with established competence in more than one field, has been a great diplomat and very competent in public affairs. He joined BJP as soon as he retired from services. He has been appearing as a spokesman for the party for so many years on TV, he has been writing articles, he was a part of our 2014 campaign.

Mr Alphons was an independent member of the Kerala Assembly. He gave up his membership of the Assembly, joined the BJP and has been working for the party for the last 7-8 years without any office being given to him. We always felt handicapped because we needed a representation from Kerala and obviously the community he belongs to had to be represented in the government. Just because we have lesser number of people from a community, you cannot have people not being represented. And I think he's been known as an honest crusader. So they are not only ordinary bureaucrats, but also people who joined the BJP years back and have been working for the party. What's the problem in giving them office?

Q. What is the message that the PM wants to send out with this reshuffle?

A. I think the message is one word: Accountability, Performance. He keeps a strict vigil on it, he makes his own analysis, as to who are the people who are going to be used and who are going to be promoted. And therefore, performance pays in this government. This is the only clear message of accountability that the PM has sent out.

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