After Modi government came to power in 2014, the primary focus and immediate priority was fixing the economy. The macroeconomic foundations of the state were in doldrums when Arun Jaitley took over as the finance minister and therefore his priority was to build strong macroeconomic fundamentals on which a near ‘double digit growth’ could be delivered. In the last five years, the government implemented some of most awaited reforms like Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, GST, and institutionalization of inflation targeting.
Undoubtedly, Arun Jaitley has built the macroeconomic foundations on which India could aim to become ‘economic superpower’. Having proven his mettle, Arun Jaitely would have been the obvious choice for the Finance Minister portfolio under the re-elected Modi government. However, he might not be able to continues as FM due to his health conditions, as per media reports. As per Reuters report, “He is definitely not taking the post of the finance minister simply because he is very unwell.” Therefore, the new government will have to look for alternatives of Jaitley.
For the position of finance minister, the most obvious and likely choice is Railways Minister Piyush Goyal. Piyush Goyal has worked as interim finance minister twice during the last five years in the absence Arun Jaitely due to health conditions. He was finance minister for almost a month (23 January 2019 to 15 February 2019) and presented one of the most well-structured election year budget ever. The direct benefit transfer to farmers, pension for unorganized sector workers and many- the budget presented vision for ‘New India’, a capitalist welfare state. He also held the ministry from 14 May 2018 to 23 August 2018 when Jaitley stepped down due to health issues.
Piyush Goyal has strong academic and professional credentials prerequisite for the crucial position. He is all India second rank holder in Chartered Accountant and second rank holder in law at Mumbai University. He has served on the boards of State Bank of India and Bank of Baroda, worked for some of the most reputed global and domestic institutions and is respected across the corporate world and professional lobbies. Proven track record as Minister of Railways, Minister of Power, Minister of Coal and Minister of New and Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal is perhaps one of the most experienced cabinet ministers in the Modi cabinet. As such, the probability of him securing the important portfolio of finance is very high.
Suresh Prabhu, another person from Maharashtra is the second most probable candidate for top job at the finance ministry. He was Minister of Railways before the charge was given to our top contender, Piyush Goyal. He has also been minister of power in the first NDA government under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Currently, he holds the portfolio of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Ministry of Civil Aviation. The work in Commerce and Industry ministry in closely related to that of the Ministry of Finance and this increases the probability of Prabhu getting the ministry.
Another choice for Finance Minister could be Surjit Bhalla. The appointment of Bhalla would continue the tradition of appointing technocrats in the role of Finance minister. The appointment of Yashwant Sinha and Manmohan Singh by Chandrashekhar Singh and P. V. Narasimha Rao respectively were such appointments. Bhalla was a member of PM’s Economic Advisory Council in the first Modi government. He has written several books including The New Wealth of Nations (2017) and has worked with many top global think tanks. He has been an ardent supporter of Modi government and headed many panels appointed by ministries. Although a remote possibility, but if Modi government chooses him as finance minister, it would not be a great surprise.
There are many other great choices like Subramanian Swamy but they are not expected to get a berth in the cabinet due to age bar. BJP has put 75 as age bar for active politics and Swamy is 79 years old. As such, Piyush Goyal is the most likely candidate to present the next budget which is expected to come by last week of June or first week of July.