Defence charge only for now, says Jaitley

New Delhi :  Sixty-two-year old Arun Jaitley took over on Tuesday as the finance minister in the North Block, indicating that he will shed the Defence portfolio in the Cabinet expansion soon. He later went to the South Block to assume charge as defence Minister as well.

Later he told reporters that he is holding the defence portfolio only as an additional charge and it would go to a new person once there is a cabinet expansion. Though he did not disclose how soon the Cabinet expansion would take place, sources said it could be as early as June after a brief week-long Parliament session. At that point, former party president and former Union minister Murli Manohar Joshi may be accommodated. Joshi (80) missed the bus as he did not fall under the “below 75 years of age” criteria fixed by Narendra Modi in concurrence with the RSS. But the RSS leadership has promised to accommodate him and that may be the reason why the defence portfolio was has been temporarily allotted to Jaitley, sources said.

After taking charge of the finance portfolio, Jaitley noted that he is taking over at a challenging time and would be focus on fiscal consolidation and inflation. ‘‘The challenges are very obvious. We have to restore the pace of growth, contain inflation, and obviously concentrate on fiscal consolidation,” Jaitley said.

RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan was one of the first key officials to meet Jaitley on Tuesday. Rajan said after the meeting that the central bank would work to strike a balance between reviving economic growth and containing inflation. He also said controlling inflation would be one of the biggest challenges for the RBI and the government in the coming months.

Jaitley also holds the charge of corporate affairs ministry. He will be assisted in finance and corporate affairs ministries by Nirmala Sitharaman (59), who has been the party spokesperson for the past four years. She and Prakash Javadekar, the new information and broadcasting minister, are the only two persons who are not members of either House of Parliament. They need to become members within six months to continue in the post. Nirmala also holds independent charge of Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

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