New Delhi: No leader likes forever to be reminded of his lowly career beginnings, the favours done to him, and the obligations incurred. In recent magazine stories extolling Arun Jaitley as the most powerful and dynamic minister of the present Bharatiya Janata Party government, there are clear attempts to denigrate Narendra Modi in this fashion and to suggest that the Union finance minister had a decisive role in his rise. This effort to belittle Modi by journalists close to Jaitley is not a new development; no opportunity is spared to remind the prime minister of the mountain of obligations owed to Jaitley.

Roundly defeated in Amritsar by a reluctant Congress candidate, Captain Amarinder Singh, the only Lok Sabha election that Arun Jaitley fought and lost, he should have been out in the cold when Narendra Modi formed his government. For old time’s sake or perhaps believing in his competence, the prime minister brought Jaitley into the cabinet and entrusted him with two very important portfolios, namely those of finance and defence. Even then, Manohar Parrikar had been mentioned for both responsibilities and home, but he chose to remain Goa’s chief minister.

When the prime minister entrusts a ministry to one, he or she is expected to perform to the best of their abilities. Assuming that those joining politics aspire for the highest executive position, every assignment then presents tremendous learning opportunities for future use and employment. For Jaitley, the defence portfolio would have been a valuable addition to ministerial experience if and when he got a chance to take a shy at the prime ministry. He would probably never get that chance but one must not, for that reason, stop aspiring.

Jaitley, however, made it clear from day 1 that he was not interested in the defence portfolio; he was holding it out of sufferance. He rarely spent time in the ministry to understand and relate to defence matters. He was ill most of the time and the prime minister had to lead the efforts to counter Pakistan’s ceasefire violations on the border and Chinese intrusions on the frontier with Tibet. The Make-in-India push for the Ministry of Defence came from the prime minister because it is his initiative. Through the press, Jaitley tried to corner the accolades; the prime minister would know better.

Seeing that Arun Jaitley was a liability in defence, Prime Minister Modi had to coax Manohar Parrikar to move to Delhi. He was unwilling; why would he wish to give up a number 1 position in Goa for a number 2 or 3 rank in Delhi? Delhi has never enamoured Parrikar; he has often said so. In other words, Modi had to request him to the Centre. He can’t have liked doing that, despite both having mutual respect and admiration for each another; all because Arun Jaitley made no effort to be useful in defence.

Now Jaitley has got additional charge of Information and Broadcasting, a redundant department according to this writer. Jaitley likes to talk and to schmooze with the press; he would be relieved with the change. But it represents a demotion. I and B for defence is no bargain. Moreover, he has come on Modi’s watch-list. He will not know till Modi lowers the boom on him.

Arun Jaitley is highly overrated; in this, he is like P.Chidambaram, his idol. Jaitley has done not one innovative thing since becoming finance minister. Every initiative related to finance and economy can be traced to the prime minister. Insiders say the reshuffle of top finance ministry officials is a signal to Jaitley to shape up. Jaitley’s problem is that he is an insider, a Delhi-wallah, a durbari; he expects investors and industrialists to salaam to him; he has no time for small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs.

Having made his fortune, Arun Jaitley cannot have the fire to perform; it is unfair to expect him to. He is not a driven man like Narendra Modi or Manohar Parrikar; incidentally, both men are single, men without women, as Hemingway would say. They are outsiders; they will quit Delhi and its corrupt environment once their tasks are finished. Arun Jaitley can never leave. The thing that will puzzle Prime Minister Modi sooner rather than later is, “What is this man doing in my cabinet?” The quicker the puzzle is resolved, the better.