New Delhi: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may be entrusted with an additional charge of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in view of the illness of Sushma Swaraj, who is suffering from kidney failure and, therefore, has been out of action for last two weeks.
Two indications to this effect came when 20 Indian diplomats, appointed as ambassadors for the first time, had a meeting with him on Tuesday as part of the government briefings, and then on Wednesday when the MEA announced that Jaitey would co-chair the two-day Heart of Asia conference beginning in Amritsar on Saturday.
Normally, newly appointed envoys don’t meet top government officials and ministers in a group. But their meeting with Jaitley was arranged to bring him in the loop. These envoys are going to Latin America, Europe and Africa.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi could have asked Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar to attend the Amritsar conference in the absence of Swaraj as he has been doing in the recent time, travelling to all the places. He, however, opted for Jaitley to head the Indian delegation to the conference despite his daily presence needed in Delhi for handling the pangs of demonetisation as also to prepare for the Budget he has to present on February 1.
Modi also went to Jaitley’s residence at No. 2 Krishna Menon Marg here on Tuesday, ostensibly for a dinner and to hold one-on-one consultations. He may have dropped hints to Jaitley to prepare for filling the vacuum created by Swaraj’s ill health, sources said.
They also added that Jaitley may be initially given the additional portfolio of the External Affairs Minister and later divested of the finance portfolio. This may be done to make him the fall guy for faulty implementation of demonetisation and for putting people into hardship, besides inviting criticism of the government’s best move to finish off black money.