New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen to have a cabinet minister hold the finance portfolio, which he has held since the 1 December appointment of former finance minister P. Chidambaram as the country’s home minister.
Former home minister Shivraj Patil resigned on 1 December in the wake of the terror attacks in Mumbai.
Names doing the rounds of Delhi’s political circles include S.M. Krishna, the former chief minister of Karnataka, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and C. Rangarajan, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) who is now a member of the Rajya Sabha.
On Tuesday, Singh’s meeting with President Pratibha Patil fuelled speculation about a cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of a new finance minister. A person familiar with the development who did not want to be identified said that while no decision had been taken, “Krishna is a contender for a cabinet berth.”
It couldn’t immediately be ascertained whether Krishna was being considered for finance, or another portfolio under the charge of Singh, information and broadcasting. Singh also holds the environment and forests portfolio.
Krishna has met with Singh and his name had earlier featured in informal discussions in the Congress as a possible replacement for Chidambaram. Singh, who has been finance minister, deputy chairman of the planning commission, and governor of RBI could also consider Ahluwalia or Rangarajan for the finance minister’s job, “but preference for a political person in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls makes Krishna the frontrunner,” said a cabinet minister who did not want to be identified.
The finance ministry has two junior ministers—Pawan Bansal for expenditure, banking and insurance and S.S. Palanimanickam for revenue— and while they can handle some of the work during the extended budget session that opens on Wednesday, Singh “feels the need for a full-fledged cabinet-level replacement for Chidambaram,” the minister added.
Singh took charge of information and broadcasting from an ailing Priyaranjan Dasmunshi and that of environment and forests from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)’s A. Raja who shifted to telecommunications after former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran fell out with Tamil Nadu chief minister and head of the DMK, M. Karunanidhi, and was divested of his portfolio.
India’s junior foreign minister Anand Sharma has concurrent charge of the information and broadcasting ministry, but analysts say the government would prefer a full-time cabinet minister in charge who can publicize the government’s achievements in the run-up to Lok Sabha elections scheduled for April.