Lawyer-politician Arun Jaitley, till recently India’s finance minister (now a minister without portfolio following a health scare), has often derisively been called a Blog Minister.
The title is due to Jaitley’s frequent online blogs in defence of his party and government and is meant to suggest that Jaitley and his erstwhile portfolio were unimportant in a dispensation pre-occupied with headline-hunting, political conspiracies and communal polarisation. How else does a senior minister, handling what is widely considered the second most important job in the land, find the time to regularly pen his thoughts on subjects not always within his purview?
Why Arun Jaitley is Grumbling About ‘Tyranny of the Un-Elected’
Arun Jaitley, The Prolific Blogger
It is true that Jaitley’s stint as finance minister – marked by lows in job creation and investment, and serious credibility issues with economic data – has been far from distinguished, but his importance in the current power set-up may lie elsewhere.
To his detractors, Jaitley’s blogging may be a non-serious pursuit taking away attention from his onerous responsibilities, but its utility to the BJP is difficult to overlook.
Jaitley’s writings, thanks to his legal training and experience, have sophisticated spin and legal argumentation that have given a certain kind of BJP sympathiser – those with pretensions to reason and refinement – the ammunition to counter the Modi sarkaar’s critics. Not everyone may read Jaitley’s blogs first hand, but the blog content informs enough memes for the message to travel.
Whether it is the government’s handling of relations with the country’s central bank or premier investigative agency, underscoring the problems with coalition governments or deflecting the Opposition’s barbs on the Rafale deal, Jaitley’s blogs have tried shoring up the BJP’s shaky positions with reasonable-sounding logic and catchy hook phrases. It is a different matter that holes remain in Jaitley’s positions.
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The Technical-Intellectual Facade Jaitley’s Blogs Offer BJP
So, Jaitley evocatively writes of the ‘tyranny of the unelected’ when dwelling on his government’s testy relations with the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bureau of Investigation, but skirts the crucial point about how and why constitutional powers are by design allocated between the elected and the un-elected.
Arun Jaitley speaks of the decisive, forward-thinking government only a majority government can offer, without once reflecting on the irony of being in a coalition government himself, or his party’s ongoing attempts to woo new, and retain old allies.
Critics of Jaitley’s party and government are dubbed ‘compulsive contrarians’, and the terms of the Rafale debate are cleverly changed as Jaitley waxes eloquent on the deal – its implications for India’s defence preparedness, the fine points of the agreement the Opposition has apparently missed, the Supreme Court’s ‘clean chit’ on procedural and commercial aspects, etc – without responding to the Opposition’s specific questions on price change, the Defence Ministry’s objections to the negotiation process (both borne out by recent exclusives in The Hindu) and the merits of awarding large ancillary contracts to a newly-formed company with no established domain expertise.
The larger point is that Jaitley’s blogs impart a technical-intellectual veneer to the BJP’s positions. And this veneer is important – for it comforts individuals and leads them to think that they are not blind in their endorsement of the establishment.
It is not a contribution to be underestimated, especially at a time when a large section of the media is reluctant to interrogate those in power.
More Than Meets the Eye
If Jaitley’s blogs have been the generator of reasonable-sounding talking points for one kind of BJP supporter, Jaitley’s persona – Delhi-elite, networked-but-lacking-janaadhar – is the punching bag that has taken the punches that another kind of BJP supporter – the disappointed kind, has been looking to throw, but is reluctant to direct at the prime minister.
To such minds, demonetisation and GST were PM Modi’s masterstrokes that were stymied by his finance minister’s ineptitude – and corruption, middlemen and crony capitalism have not disappeared despite Modi’s best efforts, because the finance minister did not push hard enough.
But the truth is much more complicated than that – demonetisation and GST were not well thought out, and corruption is too complex and embedded a phenomenon to wish away from a pulpit – but Jaitley has been the soft target soaking an anger that may otherwise have singed his prime minister.
Jaitley’s Dual Role: Shock-Absorber & Spinmeister
The roles of spinmeister and shock-absorber that Jaitley has taken on are tough, and he has risked the opprobrium of party men and opponents alike. It may be a role he chose for himself to remain relevant in a dispensation that does not trust people like him.
Or it may be a role that the party has entrusted to him. Or it may just be a role that happened with time. Whatever the case may be, Jaitley has gamely tried patching the chinks in his party, government and leader’s armour.
Whether that will be enough to trump karma and a galvanised Opposition at the hustings will be discovered soon enough.
(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and crime fiction writer, and can be reached on Twitter at @ManishDubey1972. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)