Less than a month into the Indian budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's absence from key industry consultations held by Prime Minister Modi has led to eyebrows being raised by many, including from the main opposition party Congress.
Like some of the previous meetings, Sitharaman could not be spotted in the latest meeting that the prime minister held with a section of economists on Thursday, despite her other cabinet colleagues being present on the occasion.
Modi has held a series of consultation meetings on the budget over the last 10 days, as well as on the plan to expand the size of the Indian economy to $5 trillion by 2025. Interestingly, the finance minister was not part of any of them.
According to sources, eight consultation meetings have already been conducted by the prime minister. On Thursday, Modi met a group of 39 economists in the presence of Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog – the Indian government’s top think tank.
Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets top economists of the country, at Niti Aayog, ahead of the Union Budget. Home Minister Amit Shah, Union Ministers Piyush Goyal and Nitin Gadkari also present pic.twitter.com/fFqqTRqmtQ— ANI (@ANI) January 9, 2020
In a photograph of Modi’s meeting with economists in New Delhi on Thursday, tweeted by Indian news agency ANI, several cabinet ministers handling key portfolios could be seen, but Finance Minister Sitharaman wasn’t there. The other cabinet ministers present on the occasion included Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
Modi is seen flanked by Home Minister Amit Shah and Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog Rajeev Kumar. Before Thursday’s meeting, Modi met with India’s top industry captains on 6 January.
Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor raised the issue of the absence of the finance minister during key consultations, with responses pouring in.
Where is the Finance Minister? Or has the Duo forgotten they have one? https://t.co/990NEDyQp4— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 9, 2020
Same question again: https://t.co/QhZQtBLRwv. What’s going on here? Finance Minister indisposed?— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 9, 2020
Tharoor did get a reply to his social media broadside against the Indian finance minister. The minister’s office tweeted that Sitharaman already had a meeting with economists on 20 December.
Sir, the minister has already met economists on 20th Dec 2019, as a part of the pre-budget consultations. https://t.co/pYMoqBbv35— NSitharamanOffice (@nsitharamanoffc) January 9, 2020
Finance Minister Sitharaman’s Twitter account also wrote about the minister’s interaction with the office bearers and grass-roots level functionaries of the governing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), held almost at the same time as Modi’s meeting with economists.