In the past few weeks Arun Jaitley has put his stamp on the Narendra Modi government as a Super Minister. He is to the Modi government what Pranab Mukherjee was to the Manmohan Singh government.
Jaitley's authority on the government and easy relationship with Prime Minister Modi, arguably India’s most powerful man today, was writ large on the last two cabinet meetings on 29 December and 5 January.
Several news agencies and media outfits got it wrong when they reported earlier this week that the union cabinet had approved an ordinance for amending the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act (MMDRA) of 1957 aimed at auctioning of iron ore and other minerals. The cabinet did not approve the ordinance route for the MMDRA bill at its last meeting but only approved a few amendments to the bill.
The Modi government has, in fact, has decided not to take the ordinance route for the MMDRA bill. Jaitley's interventions and arguments have finally persuaded Modi to desist from taking the ordinance route for the mines bill.
Jaitley cautioned against taking recourse to the ordinance route at the drop of a hat and reminded his colleagues about the pitfalls, particularly from the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The Modi government has been roundly criticized by the opposition for bypassing the parliament and governing the country through ordinances. The Modi government has already issued eight ordinances since assuming office 225 days ago – an average of one ordinance every 28 days.
Interestingly, Modi is following in the footsteps of Indira Gandhi in this context as Indira too had an exactly the same ‘strike rate’ in issuing ordinances (one ordinance in 28 days) and her government had issued 208 ordinances during her 16-year-long premiership.
President Pranab Mukherjee has on a couple of times in the recent past expressed his displeasure to the government over the rationale behind taking frequent ordinances. PM Modi’s view was that taking the ordinance route was vital to implement the government’s growth and development agenda and also send a positive message to potential foreign investors.
But Jaitley was soon joined by several other ministers during the 5 January cabinet meeting in opposing the ordinance route for the MMDRA bill, presenting an unprecedented situation in the seven-month-old government where ministers openly spoke their views and dared to differ with the PM’s view.
The Prime Minister weighed in Jaitley’s advice favourably and eventually agreed to his finance minister’s point of view.
The MMDRA bill is of crucial importance for Modi to implement his pet 'Make in India' scheme as minerals like iron ore and bauxite are important inputs for industries.
The amended MMDRA bill will have new clauses like increasing the lease in terms of area (from the present ten square kms to 100 square kms) and time span (fifty years) which should attract foreign miners in droves to India.
Jaitley had stepped in with regard to the Land Acquisition Bill in a big way last month. He went to President Mukherjee and convinced him about the pressing need for signing an emergency executive order on land acquisition reforms.
President Mukherjee saw logic in Jaitley’s arguments and signed the ordinance on Land Acquisition on 31 December.
The President was told that restrictions imposed by the previous UPA government on land acquisition had been blocking crucial infrastructure projects worth $300 billion.
One may recall that Jaitley was given additional charge of Information and Broadcasting ministry two months ago, a portfolio which he had 14 years ago. PM Modi has sent Jaitely to I&B with a specific purpose as the character of media has changed dramatically with emergence of digital and social media.
Modi gave this key ministry as an additional charge to Jaitley as he is the most media-savvy and networked minister in his cabinet. Jaitley’s mission is to reach out to media houses to rebut a perception that Modi keeps media at bay.
Incidentally, the Prime Minister has told his ministers to visit newspaper offices and mingle with journalists. Union ministers Jual Oram and Dharmendra Pradhan have already visited media houses in Orissa as part of the government’s new approach.
Updated Date: Jan 09, 2015 10:54:20 IST