With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh likely to be out of action during the parliament session from Feb 12, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will chair cabinet meetings but it is still unclear who will present the vote on account that sanctions pre-budget government expenditure.
The prime minister, who is now 76, underwent an angiography procedure at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Wednesday and is scheduled to undergo a bypass surgery on Saturday, according to an official communiqué.
Doctors attending to him said the coronary artery bypass graft surgery, to be performed on him with surgeons also drawn from the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai, could keep him out of action for at least a month, if not more.
Accordingly, he may not be able to present the vote on account that is scheduled on Feb 16 to get the parliament's approval to finance government expenditure and pay the salaries of its employees till the next regular budget is presented after the general elections.
In terms of chairing cabinet meetings, a clear indication has emerged from senior Congress party leaders that the task will fall on the hands of Mukherjee, the virtual number 2 in the Manmohan Singh cabinet.
"When the prime minister goes on foreign visits, it is Pranabda (Mukherjee) who has been chairing the cabinet meetings. Don't forget, he has also chaired more than 50 EGoMs (empowered group of ministers)," a senior Congress leader pointed out.
In fact, in the prime minister's official web site, Mukherjee's name is top on the list of cabinet ministers, which is not in alphabetical order, followed by Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh.
But it is still not clear who will present the vote on account. Usually, the finance minister presents it, but the finance portfolio is now with Manmohan Singh himself, after shifting P Chidambaram to the home ministry.
"I would think it could be Chidambaram (who will present the vote on account). He was at the helm of the finance ministry till a month ago. And he is well versed with the current state of government finances," said a senior minister, who did not with to be identified.
Moreover despite taking over as home minister Chidamabaram has not only been called for key meetings on the economy by the prime minister but has also articulated the government's viewpoint on the financial crisis in parliament and outside.
"But you know where these things will be decided!" the minister said, alluding that the Congress party president Sonia Gandhi will have a final say in the matter, in consultations with some senior leaders including Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi.
Mukherjee, who returned from Afghanistan on Friday morning, already had a meeting with Gandhi, where the prime minister's health was one of the main topics they discussed.
"It is premature to speculate. He (Manmohan Singh) is going for his treatment. We don't know how long it will take, what will happen," Mukherjee told reporters in New Delhi.