The man most likely to get that job is Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde
Even as there is no certainty on precisely when the next Cabinet reshuffle takes place or indeed, when a new Finance Minister is appointed — it is likely to happen only after the country gets a new President and a Vice-President — a new Leader of the Lok Sabha will have to be named before the monsoon session starts in July-end.
As things stand, the man most likely to get that job is Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde: Congress sources say that of the senior leaders available in the Lower House, he fulfils best the criteria required, apart from the social message that it will send out as he is a senior Dalit leader. As far as experience goes, he has not just been a Union Minister, he has been Chief Minister of Maharashtra — earlier, as Finance Minister in the State, he presented nine successive budgets. In a fractious House, his rapport with leaders across party lines can help him play the role of Leader better, and he has a pleasant, conciliatory manner.
The only factor that can go against him, senior party leaders say, is that he has deposed before the Commission investigating the Adarsh scandal in Mumbai, even though there are no specific charges against him.
If it is not Mr. Shinde, the party will have to dip into its pool of senior Cabinet Ministers: they include Home Minister and seven-time Lok Sabha member P. Chidambaram, Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily (if the party wants to send out a message to poll-bound Karnataka), who has been Chief Minister of Karnataka, and Minister for Urban Development Kamal Nath, who has been a Lok Sabha member a record eight times.
As for the other jobs the UPA’s Presidential candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, vacated, they are being gradually filled: for instance, one of the many Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGoM) that he headed — the one on Telecom Spectrum — will now be chaired by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. Gradually, in the coming days, new heads will be announced for the other EGoMs and GoMs.
As for the Finance portfolio, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken charge and, as the events of this week have demonstrated, he is paying it the special attention it needs. For the UPA government, clearly, fixing the economy will head its agenda, as its growing unpopularity has as much to do with the stain of corruption as high prices.
However, government sources say the Prime Minister is likely to relinquish the Finance portfolio ahead of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group in Tokyo slated for October this year. Till then, he will run the Ministry with the advice of Economic Advisory Council chairman C. Rangarajan and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. He may re-allocate the work now allotted to the two MoSs in the Finance Ministry, S.S. Palanimanickam, and Namo Narain Meena. B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in charge of Finance, will play a coordinating role between the PMO and the Finance Ministry. A 1987 batch IAS officer, he was Dr. Singh’s private secretary in UPA 1.
Meanwhile, the Congress was quick to rubbish the Opposition’s claims that the Prime Minister differed with the former Finance Minister on how to deal with the economy. “Such allegations are baseless,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said, responding to questions, stressing that the five issues that were referred to when economic reforms were spoken of — the Direct Tax Code, the Goods and Services Tax, the banking, insurance and pension reforms — were on course.
“The Standing Committee’s Report on the DTC is back with the government, while the government has been trying for the last three years to get a political consensus on the GST,” he said, adding: “As for the remaining three, some of them are with the Standing Committee, some with the government. A process has to be followed: it’s a work in progress.”