Hours after he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, which he also posted on his Twitter handle on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony, Modi called on him at his residence and their meeting lasted almost half an hour.
In his letter, Jaitley, who has been undergoing treatment, said he has faced serious health challenges in the last 18 months and needs to recuperate.
“I am writing to you to formally request you that I should be allowed a reasonable time for myself, my treatment and my health, and, therefore not be a part of any responsibility, for the present, in the new government,” he wrote.
His absence from the government means Modi loses one of his most important lieutenants, and for a long time his link to the national capital, when he starts his second five-year term in office after leading the BJP to a decisive victory in the Lok Sabha elections.
A lawyer by profession, Jaitley has been the government’s troubleshooter, and the BJP’s main communicator with the media. Although he did not handle the Law Ministry — he was Law Minister in the Vajpayee government — he has been the unofficial legal adviser to the Modi government and the BJP.
His multifaceted experience, legal and political acumen has had Modi turning to him in critical times, even when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Jaitley, who played a significant role in the BJP’s election campaign against the Congress and other Opposition parties through his social media posts, told the Prime Minister that he will “obviously have a lot of time at my disposal to undertake any work informally to support the government or the party”.
In his letter, he mentioned “some serious health challenges” in the last 18 months, and that “my doctors have enabled me to emerge out of most of them”.
The 66-year-old BJP veteran was admitted to AIIMS to undergo tests and treatment for an undisclosed illness and was discharged on May 23, the day the Lok Sabha election results were announced. Jaitley is currently a Rajya Sabha member — he had lost the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar.
Stating it was a matter of “great honour and learning experience” to have been a part of the Modi government for the last five years, Jaitley said even earlier the party had bestowed responsibilities on him in the first NDA government, and when the BJP was in the Opposition.
Jaitley has been the BJP’s chief advocate — the party and the government have always fielded him before the media, be it on matters relating to flagship programmes, explaining complex issues or for mounting attacks on the Congress and other Opposition parties.
Although he has not been attending office for three weeks now, he met key officials of the Finance Ministry last Friday.
He held a review meeting with five secretaries where he is learnt to have taken stock of the economic situation, and approved term extension of the panel to review the direct tax law. Instrumental in building consensus around the Goods and Services Tax law, he led the efforts to open a new chapter in Centre-state fiscal relations and stitched together a common market across the country by subsuming various taxes into a single rate. The Finance Ministry has been proactive in addressing challenges posed by implementation of GST.
With monthly GST collections stabilising above Rs 90,000 crore and growing, the biggest reform seems to have settled down.
Another key reform in the financial sector under his watch was the introduction of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, aimed at pruning stressed assets of over Rs 10 lakh crore in the economy. To revive public sector banks, the government also provided record capital infusion of more than Rs 2.1 lakh crore and merged certain weak banks with strong banks.