A cabinet reshuffle could be on the cards with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh keen on giving up the finance portfolio he has come to hold after shifting P. Chidambaram to the Home Ministry. The vacancy in the Home Ministry was caused by Shivraj Patil’s resignation in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attack.
The prime minister’s call on President Pratibha Patil on Tuesday fuelled speculation about the new finance minister.
Former Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna is in the race for a cabinet slot. But it wasn’t immediately clear whether he would get finance or any of the other portfolios under the prime minister’s concurrent charge: information and broadcasting, environment and coal.
Singh has had a meeting with Krishna, a Rajya Sabha member, whose name earlier figured in informal discussions in top Congress quarters for the finance portfolio. “No decision has been taken yet. But Krishna is a contender for a cabinet berth,” a knowledgeable source told Hindustan Times.
A swearing-in ceremony will be necessary if any new face is brought into the council of ministers. Change of portfolios or assigning additional work to existing ministers can be done through a simple presidential notification.
The PM obviously is most qualified to head the ministry that has to often deal with the Planning Commission and the Reserve Bank of India — where he has been deputy chairman and governor respectively in the past, besides serving as P.V. Narasimha Rao's finance minister.
Such work requirements could bring into the reckoning Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia (who can be minister for six months without being an MP) and former RBI governor C. Rangarajan, now a nominated member of the upper house of Parliament. "But preference for a political person in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls five months down the line makes Krishna the frontrunner," said a cabinet minister.
The Finance Ministry has two junior ministers — Pawan Bansal for expenditure, banking and insurance, and S.S. Palanimanickam for revenue — whose services can be utilised for parliamentary work during the extended special session (a carry over from July when the government won the trust vote) opening on Wednesday. "But the PM feels the need for a full-fledged cabinet-level replacement for Chidambaram," the minister said.
Singh took charge of I&B from an ailing Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and of environment from the DMK's A. Raja who shifted to telecommunications after Dayanidhi Maran fell out with Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and was divested of his cabinet berth.
Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma has concurrent charge of I&B — where, again, a full-timer is needed to propagate the government's achievements in the ongoing poll season.