Let's take a look at candidates in the running: many good, and some pretenders.
Pranab Mukherjee: The obvious choice. He was foreign minister under Narasimha Rao and would be perfect for the job. Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi rate him highly. Problem: he runs Parliament on behalf of the Congress, liaises with leaders of other parties and is on nearly every significant Cabinet committee. All this means he can’t leave India too often — and the reason for appointing a foreign minister is because the PM can’t travel everywhere. Bengali journalists claim that their man has got the job anyway, but there is no official confirmation.
Kapil Sibal: The man who made himself a candidate. There is no way that Sibal with his lack of ministerial experience, the absence of a foreign affairs background and status as a Johnny-come-lately in the Congress would ever be entrusted with such a senior post. But such is Sibal’s rapport with the media that his is the first name on every journo’s list.
MK Rasgotra: A perfect choice in many ways. He was foreign secretary at the end of the Indira Gandhi era, worked closely with Rajiv Gandhi and is committed to the Congress’s conception of foreign policy. Well-liked and respected by the foreign service, his drawback is age: can he really handle the stress of the job?
P Chidambaram: One superficially easy solution would be to shift Chidambaram to South Block. But there are two problems. One: who would run finance given the Congress’s complete paucity of top-level talent? And two: Manmohan Singh thinks that Chidambaram is an excellent finance minister and that his continuance is vital to business confidence here and abroad. Plus, the PM has made it clear that he does not want additional charge of the finance ministry.
Former IFS officers: When they ran out of political names, these are the ones they drag out. Of this lot, Chinmay Gharekhan is the current favourite given his experience and his air of quiet competence. SK Singh is thought to be well-settled as governor and not perfect for a travelling job.
Karan Singh: Can the Hindu maharaja of Kashmir be a great advertisement for India’s position on the issue? That’s the argument the Foreign Service is using against Karan Singh. He is the sort of candidate who looks good on paper but who nobody is really enthusiastic about. A compromise choice, if at all.