In tower of babble, a sagely silence

He heads the ministry that oversees the financial ecosystem in the country.

By Jayanta Roy Chowdhury and J.P. Yadav
  • Published 19.02.18

New Delhi: He heads the ministry that oversees the financial ecosystem in the country.

He chose to make his popular election debut, although unsuccessfully, from Punjab, the region that lends its name to Punjab National Bank that was set up in 1894 in Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore by swadeshi proponents who wanted a wholly Indian bank in the state.

He is one of the most articulate public figures in the country.

Yet, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has not spoken till now on one of the biggest banking scandals in the country.

The Narendra Modi government has fielded ministers handling portfolios as disparate as defence and education to shield itself from the widening waves of the scandal that has engulfed PNB, a state-run bank that has allegedly been defrauded of Rs 11,400 crore by a group of diamond firms.

Asked why Jaitley has not stepped forward yet to reassure the banking industry and customers, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who was parachuted on Saturday into the scam-strafed trenches, said: "He will."

"Somebody is answering. Somebody responsible is answering.... You will hear everybody," Sitharaman said, suggesting that Jaitley and even the Prime Minister would speak on the issue.

By then, the finance ministry had tweeted: "The Union minister of finance and corporate affairs, Shri Arun Jaitley, leaves tonight on a two-day official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to co-chair the 12th India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission Meeting on 18th and 19th February, 2018."

True to the tweet, Jaitley left the country on Saturday evening and he tweeted on Sunday afternoon pictures in golden hue with the information: "Called on His Royal Highness The King of Saudi Arabia."

Jaitley's political opponents have taken note of his silence. Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashish Khetan tweeted on Saturday that "in the middle of this banking sector mess and financial crisis, our country's finance minister spends 3-4 hours in Delhi courts almost every second day, pursuing the multiple defamation cases he has filed against Arvind Kejriwal."

The Congress has remained unrelenting. "PM Modi tells kids how to pass exams for 2 hrs, but won't speak for 2 mins on the 22,000Cr banking scam. Mr Jaitley is in hiding. Stop behaving as if you're guilty! Speak up," Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Sunday.

Finance ministry officials said the minister would speak up as soon as the details of the scam are clear. Being a lawyer, Jaitley would like to go through the fine print before coming up with his assessment, they added.

Political sources pointed out that Jaitley has stayed somewhat under the radar on social media of late although he uploads his speeches in Parliament. He used to blog on matters of national importance but has not done so after an article on electoral bonds last month.

On February 14, the day it was announced that the PNB fraud had ballooned to Rs 11,400 crore, Jaitley did not post any tweet.

A day earlier, he had tweeted: "Birthday greetings to Smt. Sushma Swaraj ji, my colleague in the Union Cabinet. May she be blessed with a long, healthy and successful life."

From February 14 to 17, when the scandal rocked the country, nothing was posted by Jaitley on his Twitter timeline. On the morning of February 18, he paid tributes to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

In Mumbai, the CBI on Sunday virtually took control of PNB's Brady House branch. A search is likely to continue till Monday morning, PTI quoted officials as saying.