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Updated: March 23, 2014 22:50 IST

Who will be the next FM?

Puja Mehra
Comment (7)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Parties must declare their finance ministerial candidates along with the economic election manifestos

Who will be the next Union Finance Minister? That’s the hot topic of discussion in New Delhi now. The question is being discussed in bureaucratic circles — especially in the Finance Ministry — among corporates and economists, and in political circles. So much so that it seems to be attracting more interest than the subject of who will occupy 7 Race Course Road. Strangely, hardly any one seems to have even a hint, forget a credible answer.

FM, a vital cog

For an election that is ostensibly being fought on the sole plank of ‘growth and development’ to not have a list of Finance Minister (FM) probables is odd.

Not that Indian elections ever throw up finance ministerial candidates in advance; the difference this time is that the economy has slowed down to a decade-low growth rate of sub-5 per cent. No Prime Minister will be able to bring back India’s economy on the high-growth path without an able Finance Minister (FM). And so, who this man or woman will be is the single most important question begging an answer.

There is almost a bankruptcy in India as far as suitable finance ministerial candidates go: two former FMs have bowed out of the 16 Lok Sabha elections. The National Democratic Alliance’s Yashwant Sinha and the United Progressive Alliance’s P. Chidamabram are fielding their respective sons from their respective constituencies.

It is almost like a new restaurant is to be launched but without adequate thought to who the chef would be. Some would argue that in the case of the Bharatiya Janta Party at least the question doesn’t arise. The restaurateur himself is the chef!

The BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is positioning himself as the poster-boy of growth and development, aggressively tom-toming the ‘Gujarat model’ in his campaign. It is, however, unlikely Mr. Modi is the BJP’s Prime Minister-cum-FM candidate. Five Indian prime ministers have also held briefly the finance portfolio — Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, I. K. Gujral and Dr. Singh. None was a full-time FM. 

Race of the Aruns

At this stage, the front-runners for the post are the BJP’s two Aruns — former Union Commerce and Industry Minister Arun Jaitley and former Telecom Minister Arun Shourie.

 It is firmly believed in the circles that tend to know these things that the BJP has tentatively short-listed the two for the FM’s job. If Mr. Modi becomes the Prime Minister, Mr. Jaitley will have an edge over Mr. Shourie, owing to his working relationship with Mr. Modi, say sources closely watching these developments.

The Aruns have held  closed-door meetings in Delhi and Mumbai with disparate groups of corporates and people with experience in policy-making, exchanging policy ideas and gathering feedback on what could be done about the ailing economy.

At least one of them is said to be scouting for and compiling a list of NextGen reform ideas that could be “carried out without the complications of Parliament approvals”. 

Mr. Shourie received his doctorate in economics from Syracuse University, New York, and has been an economist with the World Bank.

A few weeks ago former Commerce and Industry Minister Subramanian Swamy’s name was doing the rounds as a potential FM candidate. Mr. Swamy did his Ph.D in economics from Harvard University. His advisor was Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets.

Mr. Swamy seems to have lost out to the Aruns for the time being. The dark horse in the BJP stable could be former Bihar Finance Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. His experience of chairing the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on the Goods and Services Tax and Bihar’s economic turnaround during his tenure lend merit to his candidature, say the sources.

Growing at a rate slightly in excess of 15 per cent at the peak in 2012-13, Bihar became the fastest growing State under Mr. Sushil Kumar Modi.

Possible technocrats

The BJP could also rope in technocrats — whether as the Finance Minister or the Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission or in some other policymaking role — Jagdish N. Bhagwati, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, and Arvind Panagariya, former chief economist of the Asian Development Bank. Dr. Panagariya got his Ph.D from Princeton University. In 2008, the Congress party too had nominated Dr. Singh’s confidante and former Reserve Bank of India Governor C. Rangarajan to the Rajya Sabha with the hope of appointing him as the FM. The party, however, could not overcome the internal resistance to a non-politician being appointed as FM.

Dr. Rangarajan resigned from the Rajya Sabha a year later. Similar resistance had earlier scuttled the chances of another technocrat and Dr. Singh’s first choice for the role of FM — Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia. However, former IMF chief economist Raghuram Rajan’s smooth appointment as the RBI Governor last September shows political parties have greater tolerance for technocrats.

None of the regional politicians in the fray for the Prime Ministerial race — Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav — has yet declared their FM candidates. Even the new kid on the block, the Aam Admi Party, does not have an FM candidate yet.

Freshly-minted politician

The Congress party politicians keen on the finance portfolio include Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. However, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is said to favour the freshly-minted politician, Congress candidate from Bangalore South and Infosys co-founder, Nandan Nilekani, for the job. 

Mr. Nilekani will, of course, be the first preference of the corporate sector. If political parties are serious about fighting this election on the promise of fixing the broken economy, it is important that they declare their FM candidates along with the economic election manifestos.

puja.mehra@thehindu.co.in

More In: Economy | Business

With 30 years' experience in banking and having served as the CEO
of Royal Bank of Scotland, Meera Sanyal will be a good choice for
FM.

from:  Sashi Kiran
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 17:14 IST

Its too early to decide who is going to head FM portfolio before forming
government. For BJP Arun shouri is best as he proved his metal in NDA
government being a disinvestment minister and telecom minister. Though
2G scam become national popular he come out with clean and also with
disinvestment minister without any black spot. Jaitely and Swami both
are capable personalities to handle FM but Modi and party will decides
who suits to that position once they form the government.

from:  RAGHAVENDRA R PAWAR
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 16:45 IST

How can any party declare its FM candidate before itself ? They can
either win or not. Spending too much time on what portfolio and which
candidate is too much of a waste i say .

from:  SriHarsha
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 13:34 IST

Who ever can cope with Raghuram Rajan can be the F.M. Nevertheless,
the listed personalities ?. Have they seen recession globally and had
they assimilated the India growth during this global meltdown ? How
long since they are "Monitoring the Higher level Quantitative datas ?"
Why ? Present F.M. sees it different during the recession , so did the
governor , who predicted slump and burst of housing bubble.

With growing economy of India, in technology, education , it should be
hereon more than 8%, as 8% is generally accepted growth . No trends ,
it should be steep rise, as compared to developed country !!!!


from:  GH
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 13:24 IST

S. Gurumurthy is an exceptional candidate for the FM if BJP comes into power. He has studied through the roots of Indian economy from the ancient times. His speeches in YouTube are very provoking, inspirational and makes us proud that we are Indian.
He has strong relationship with Modi and other BJP leaders hope he becomes next FM and brings prosperity to our country.

from:  thanik
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 12:53 IST

The idea of declaring FM or PM candidate before elections seems to be the idea of BJP and the author. This not the general view of the public. Also, it is not practised in parliamentary democracy. Some parties who now want PM and FM candidates declared before election may want all the ministere names declared in advance. No FM can avoid periodic recessions since economies of the world are now inter dependent whether individual nations like it or not. The author, from the list of prospective candidates named, seems to prefer US educated economists for the post. Technocrats can not make decisions out of the box and they tow the official line most of the time. Current FM could not even make a simple decision such as fixing a date for recalling currencies printed before 2005. FM need not have Harward degree to qualify for FM. What he needs is common sense, self descipline to say "no"to corruption and lobbyists.

from:  vijayaraghavan
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 09:38 IST

Either Arun Jaitley or Arun shourie has most possibilities for next FM
of our nation

from:  PRASATH VC
Posted on: Mar 24, 2014 at 00:03 IST
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