The Congress leadership will have its task cut out after Pranab Mukherjee's elevation to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The appointment in his place of a new finance minister could catalyze major changes in the council of ministers and concomitantly the party organisation.
The overhaul is long due and might happen after the presidential elections next month, well-placed Congress sources told HT. There were two views on whether a technocrat or a politician should succeed Mukherjee in the key ministry. "The final choice rests with the Prime Minister. The finance minister's appointment is his prerogative," remarked a party manager.
But he did not discount large-scale changes in the government if the vacancy was filled through a reshuffle. That doesn't mean that former Reserve Bank of India governor C Rangarajan or Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek
Singh Ahluwalia's installation, if at all, would forestall bigger changes.
The general perception in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is that the beleaguered regime needs a booster dose, a quick image makeover. "Our stock is down among people. We have to push for big-ticket changes beginning with the change of faces," a senior Congress functionary said.
Towards that end, he did not rule out promotion of some junior ministers to cabinet rank and drafting senior leaders for party work. Precious human resource that can be utilised to rejuvenate governance is currently wasted or under-utilized. Most ministers of state haven't been allotted much work by their seniors. "This must change as it breeds frustration and belies hopes of the second line of leadership," insisted another party insider.
Formal consultations haven't yet started on the new vice-president and the other position held by Pranab - that of the Leader of the House. The latter slot might be filled by any one of the senior Congress parliamentarians, including P Chidambaram, Jaipal Reddy, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Kamal Nath.
On the presidential front, the Congress isn't sanguine about the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) announcing support for Mukherjee. The BJP-led alliance might pitch for a fight to draw on its side non-NDA parties, such as the BJD and AIADMK, who have endorsed the candidature of former speaker PA Sangma. Isolated within the UPA for refusing to back the ruling alliance's official candidate, the contest may also attract the Trinamool's Mamata Banerjee.
The Left's position on the impending election to the top constitutional office could be more nuanced. They'd abstain if they decide not to back Mukherjee. Either way it will suit the UPA.