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With Distinct Mark on Cabinet Reshuffle, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Looks at Bigger Roles in BJP

File photo of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

File photo of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

A BJP insider said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's increased involvement in political troubleshooting is also a statement on the Prime Minister’s ability to utilize the resources at hand.

New Delhi: The Cabinet reshuffle on Sunday has a distinct stamp of both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah. The performers have been rewarded while the laggards have been dropped.

But if one were to scrape the surface to read the grain on the wood, there is just one other leader whose imprint seems to be clearly etched on the reshuffling: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Ministers considered close to Jaitley have fared better. Nirmala Sitharaman and Piyush Goyal are now holding key ministries in the Union Council and Dharmendra Pradhan has also been elevated.

Some new inductees, including Hardeep Puri, are also said to be in the good books of Jaitley. It’s almost a redux of 2014 when the Modi government was sworn-in after an emphatic victory that bore a Jaitley trademark. In fact, sources say even Jitender Singh and Rajyavardhan Rathore were strongly recommended by Jaitley, however, the PM thought the two must wait for some more time.

Looking at the developments over the last two months, it is evident that Jaitley's involvement in the political affairs in BJP has grown. He has been appointed as the election in-charge in Gujarat.

For more than a year, he has been busy overseeing one of the biggest tax reforms in the history of Independent India, a paradigm shift which required both legal finesse and hard political bargaining.

With the Goods and Services Tax done and dusted with, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is quietly back in his role as the political troubleshooter for the party and the government. It all began with a seamless coup in Bihar late last month, say sources. The preparations, however, were on for almost six months before the big announcement was made in Patna.

There was a certain understanding in the BJP that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would not compromise with his clean image. In fact, the desperate attempts by top RJD leaders, including Lalu Prasad Yadav and Prem Gupta, to seek some Union minister’s help in diluting the cases against the Yadav family, are said to have cast the die for the Mahagathbandhan.

Sources say the two RJD leaders had also approached Jaitley, seeking a bailout from the corruption cases. “But the FM was aware of the deep rot within the RJD and how it was soaked in corruption and benami land deals,” said a senior BJP leader.

It was at this point that Jaitley began to play an active role to take Nitish Kumar out of the alliance. Sources say, the day when Nitish decided to put in his papers, Jaitley was in touch with him, relaying PM Modi and Amit Shah’s messages.

At a dinner hosted by Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal, the same evening at a five-star hotel in Delhi, Jaitley is said to have had a casual conversation with senior JDU leader Sharad Yadav. The JDU leader was still hopeful of sorting things out with the RJD, knowing little that at that very moment Nitish was sitting with the Bihar BJP MLAs.

Again, in Kerala, where the RSS continues to be engaged in a bitter and bloody war with the Left, Jaitley’s recent visit to Thiruvananthapuram was seen as a strong message for the state government. The intervention, sources say, came with the prodding of the top RSS leadership last week where the BJP had up its ante.

At this juncture, Jaitley’s legal credentials came in handy, with many speculating a possible Presidential rule in the state, should the violence go out of hand. The Communist government in Kerala is also under scanner for dubious land deals.

A BJP insider said the Finance Minister’s increased involvement in political troubleshooting is also a statement on the Prime Minister’s ability to utilise the resources at hand.

Jaitley’s growing involvement in political affairs also takes shape just ahead of the Karnataka Assembly elections slated for next year. He enjoys good rapport with leaders in the party’s Karnataka unit. In the face of continued infighting, re-capturing Karnataka will be the next big challenge for BJP. It is the last big state which Congress still holds and Siddaramaiah’s defeat can choke the Congress of its resources before the 2019 general election.

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu is the other state which is on BJP’s radar. While Amit Shah has visited the state, the critical challenge now is to get the warring factions of AIADMK together. BJP has made it clear that both the OPS and EPS factions will have to come together. Rajinikanth, of course, would be the icing on the cake. The Tamil Nadu saga too is soaked in myriad legal hassles and who could be better than Jaitley to handle it.

In Rajya Sabha, where the BJP is now the single largest party, the Finance Minister’s way with words and Amit Shah’s winning streak and astute political sense could be the perfect blend in the House where the government still lacks majority.