Who should become Finance Minister if Pranab da goes to Rashtrapati Bhavan?

Written by: Sunil Fernandes

Who shoul become FM if Pranab goes to Rashtrapati Bhavan ?
Everybody except Sonia Gandhi seems to have made up their mind on who the next President should be. Now even Yashwant Sinha (not toeing party lines) seems to have joined the chorus to make Pranab da the Head of the State of the Indian Republic.

The moot question is: who will become the Finance Minister and lead a teetering economy, if Pranab da goes to Rashtrapathi Bhavan?

Possibly, there can be three alternatives one can think of and the economy is not in a position to think of an “out of box” candidate. The first is that the Prime Minister takes additional charge of the Finance Portfolio; the second is to move Chidambaram from Home to Finance and the third and the best one is to give a break to Montek Singh Ahluwalia in the Union Cabinet (he's not an MP presently and would need to become one).

In UPA I, Manmohan Singh took additional charge of Finance for sometime, after moving Chidambaram from Finance to the Home portfolio. It's unlikely he may take charge of Finance again, given that there are two more years before the next general elections in 2014 and political and economic compulsions have changed dramatically over the last few years.

The second choice is to move P Chidambaram from Home to Finance. P Chidambaram was already the Finance Minister in UPA I and given his strong background in Finance is more than capable of handling the job. Again, the question is whether the government would want to upset the apple cart given that Chidambaram has done a fairly good job as Home Minister (no internal strife in a long time), except his inability to convince Chief Ministers on forming a National Counter Terrorism Centre.

The third and perhaps the best option would be to get Montek Singh Ahluwalia (now the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission) as Finance Minister. Ahluwalia comes with tremendous credentials and was the Commerce Secretary in 1991, a phase during which India was almost bankrupt and went on to pledge gold. He later become the Finance Secretary in 1993, again a phase wherein he along with a team led by the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh bought India's economy out from the dumps.

Montek has held various posts with the World Bank and within Government. He was Economist with the World Bank, Washington, DC; a Chief at the, Income Distribution Division, Development Research Centre, The World Bank, Washington, D.C and Director, Independent Evaluation Office, International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C.

He joined the Government of India in 1979 as Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance after which he held a series of positions including Special Secretary to the Prime Minister; Commerce Secretary; Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs; Finance Secretary in the Ministry of Finance; Member of the Planning Commission and Member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. In 2001, he was appointed as the first Director of the newly created Independent Evaluation Office of the International Monitory Fund. He resigned the position in 2004 to take up the position of Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission which he holds at present.

Of course, the only time he's come in for criticism is the recent below poverty line figure which the planning commission pegged at Rs 32, which sparked an outrage.

In any case, given the faltering nature of the Indian economy, including the twin deficits (current and fiscal), precarious position of the Indian rupee and elevated inflation levels, Montek may be a good choice as the Finance Minister. Whether he's accepted by the Congress party high command and other influential politicians within the Congress party is a big question mark.

And a bigger question mark of course is whether Congress' “man friday” is relieved of his present duties.


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