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Do we really need a new FM?

Can’t Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is holding additional charge of this portfolio, continue to discharge this responsibility? N Chandra Mohan ponders.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2008 22:58 IST
N Chandra Mohan

There is much speculation doing the rounds about who will become the UPA’s Finance Minister after P Chidambaram’s move to the Home Ministry. Three names are popping up even as the news is that the Congress top leadership prefers a political person in that slot. But with a general election slated in April-May 2009, do we need a new appointment? Can’t Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is holding additional charge of this portfolio, continue to discharge this responsibility?

For starters, there is no need for an FM to present another full-fledged Budget before the elections. The UPA government has already presented its quota of five Budgets. The need will, however, be to seek a vote-on-account to enable it to discharge its responsibilities and meet essential expenditure before the new government is sworn in. But this hardly requires a political person and the PM can ably present a vote-on-account in Parliament.

Perhaps, the government is thinking of a final chance to pander to its vote-bank before poll dates are announced and the vote-on-account is due. This means following the previous NDA regime that doled out fiscal goodies in a full-fledged Budget for 2003-04 and a mini one in January 2004 — replete with measures by Finance Minister Jaswant Singh that ensured food in the poor man’s stomach and money in the housewife’s purse.

But such an exercise hardly ensured a favourable outcome for the NDA at the hustings. No one seems really sure whether the UPA wants to repeat this farce in January 2009. We also don’t need a new FM simply because the Indian economy is being buffeted by a global economic slowdown. The country’s regulators like the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) are doing an admirable job monitoring the fluid situation and taking the necessary steps. They are also coordinating their actions. The PM, for his part, has his economic advisory council to give him advice. Manmohan Singh also has the services of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, who unveiled the Rs 34,000 crore fiscal stimulus package to counter the slowdown in India’s growth.

So why is the buzz regarding a new incumbent in North Block refusing to go away?