Debating India

Was talk of PM as FM just a red herring?

Priya Ranjan Das

Tuesday 25 May 2004, by DAS*Priya Ranjan

NEW DELHI: Was it a red herring that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would keep finance? It now transpires that the PM and, for that matter, Sonia Gandhi had made up their mind on giving the finance portfolio to P Chidambaram as early as Thursday after the President had invited Singh to form the government on Wednesday.

It was a well-kept secret until the portfolios were finally announced on Sunday night. The top leadership of Congress, it seems, did not want to take any chances and expose itself to the kind of intense pulls and pressures that have in recent years been brought to bear on the appointment of India’s finance minister.

It had learnt from the experience of the NDA government in 1998 that there could be many a slip between the cup and the lip and that as long as the race remained open, multiple forces could be at work to get persons of their choice to take the crucial job in the government.

The then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had announced to reporters his choice of Jaswant Singh as the finance minister, but in the course of the intervening night-between Vajpayee’s announcement and Singh formally taking office -intense corporate and political lobbying had forced Vajpayee to go back on his words and settle for Yashwant Sinha instead.

Congress told its coalition partners that since the party was leading the coalition, it had a claim on the four big ministries- home, external affairs, defence and finance. An impression was created that Prime Minister Singh would like to keep finance until at least the first budget of the UPA government was presented in June-July, so that an economic road map could be set out for the next five years

An opportunity for breaking free from such lobbying presented itself when Manmohan Singh, who would have been the finance minister in Sonia Gandhi’s cabinet, was instead nominated by her to take the top job.

Singh’s reputation as the architect of India’s economic reforms and as the finance minister who had steered the country out of its economic crisis in the early 1990s had helped.

Congress told its coalition partners that since the party was leading the coalition, it had a claim on the four big ministries- home, external affairs, defence and finance. An impression was created that Prime Minister Singh would like to keep finance until at least the first budget of the UPA government was presented in June-July, so that an economic road map could be set out for the next five years.

The impression gained so much currency that even an hour before the portfolios were distributed on Sunday night among the ministers who had been sworn in, leaders of the UPA met at a dinner meeting and dispersed secure in their belief that Prime Minister Singh was retaining the finance portfolio for himself.

See online : The Times of India

P.S.

in The Times of India, Tuesday, May 25, 2004.

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