With Pranab Mukherjee set for his Raisina Hill stint, the big question for the UPA now is who takes over as finance minister. The job is difficult indeed.
The government is keen on kick-starting the stalled reforms process and dispelling the impression that it is caught in policy paralysis. The new finance minister needs to take politically uncomfortable decisions and own up responsibility for these. He has to inspire confidence in the global investor community in the country besides addressing the fears of the masses ill-at-ease with the idea of reforms. He has to be a politician as well as an innovative economic thinker.
Who fits the bill? There are not many options around. This leaves Home Minister P Chidambaram as the strongest contender. He is not popular and brings with him a baggage of liabilities, the allegations of foul play in the 2G mess for example. But he is capable of clear thinking and taking decisions. That is what the government requires of the finance minister most at the moment.
If Chidambaram shifts to finance who takes charge of home? This again is a crucial question for the government. An article in the Indian Express says, the Congress would like Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to fill the slot. The prime minister is keen on giving her a bigger role at the Centre and earlier too have been indications that the party is preparing her for a bigger role. But the key question is whether she would be interested. Elections to the Delhi assembly are due next year. After the Congress’ poor performance in the local body polls earlier this year, she has a point to prove. The party cannot afford to lose Delhi and she is the Congress’s best bet.
As the recent standoff between the Congress and the NCP suggests, Sharad Pawar is aiming at a portfolio appropriate to his stature. Which means, he could be gunning for some high profile portfolio such as home, finance, defence or foreign affairs. The government will also need to accommodate at least two DMK members in some important ministry. Going by the number of ministerial aspirants a big reshuffle is on the cards.
Would it be Pawar for Home? The Congress is not likely to let go of the key portfolio. It still views the UPA government as a Congress government—this is the source of its recurring conflicts with the allies—and Pawar as Home Minister skews the power equations in the Congress-NCP equations in Maharashtra.
Does Rahul Gandhi fit in somewhere? Only recently he announced his intention to play a bigger role in the party and the government. Some in the party want him to be part of the government while others want him to play an active role in the party’s organisation. If If the party decides to make him a minister, it has to be portfolio matching his stature. But his lack of experience is a liability. As minister he will be under severe scrutiny. Will he be able to handle that? The government surely has a tough call to make.
The cabinet reshuffle, in all probability, will be the last one before the 2014 elections. The government would be extremely careful about distribution of portfolios. Good performances from individual ministries would give it a talking point during elections. It also needs to avoid controversies like the ones dogging it over the last three years. Thus it needs to have right people at the right places sending out the right message. However, as of now, the picture is messy like everything else about the UPA.