By A Special Correspondent
First publised on 2020-01-09 20:52:14
It is extremely surprising and unconventional that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was not present when the government held a pre-budget meeting with economists, other experts and stakeholders from different segments of the economy at the Niti Aayog in Delhi today. The excuse that she was pre-occupied (holding a pre-budget meeting with party workers at the BJP headquarters) is so weak that it is laughable.
What is more important for a finance minister before drafting the budget? To meet economists and experts or to meet party workers? Which meeting could have been rescheduled without much difficulty? The presence of Piyush Goyal (Commerce), Nitin Gadkari (Transport) and Narendra Singh Tomar (Agriculture), the three other ministries that have a major stake in the budget-making process was good, but it will not make up for the absence of the Finance Minister as she is the one who has the last word on the final budget. Or has she?
With power being overwhelmingly centralized in the PMO and most of the decisions being taken by either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah, do individual ministers in this government have any importance left? The absence of the Finance Minister from such an important meeting is one more thing that confirms this fact. The ministers in the NDA government have responsibility without power and it is showing.
The Congress has rightly taken potshots at the government for the absence of the Finance Minister from such an important meeting. In a tweet, it sarcastically asked the government to 'invite' the Finance Minister in a pre-budget meeting next time. In another tweet, it asked, "how many men does it take to do a woman's work?"
The government must realize that in politics and business, there are some things that can inspire confidence and others that can set off depression. Nirmala Sitharaman's absence from such an important meeting will definitely reduce her stature in business circles as well as her department. It was a huge blunder to let her skip (or was she instructed not to attend?) this important meeting. Has the government made up its mind to replace her?