With Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee headed for Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Congress will now have to look for a new Finance Minister — and a Leader of the Lok Sabha.
Government sources say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might prefer to hold the Finance portfolio himself or give it to C. Rangarajan, his Economic Adviser, who was earlier Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. These sources said the most obvious choice, of course, would be Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, but with the Opposition targeting him on the 2G and Aircel-Maxis cases, his appointment at this stage could add to the government's problems.
However, Congress sources said the party would prefer, in the event that Mr. Chidambaram does not get the job, a political appointee rather than a technocrat such as Mr. Rangarajan or indeed, Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia — another Manmohan Singh favourite — who blotted his copybook, first because of the controversy over poverty figures and then, more recently, when newspapers splashed the story about the Commission's extravagant toilets.
In terms of seniority, Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who has presented nine budgets in Maharashtra, could be a possible name, party sources said, but for the fact that his name still figures in the Adarsh scam case. Then the field opens up — Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath are among the names doing the rounds.
Meanwhile, appointing a Leader of the Lok Sabha could also pose a problem for the Congress. DMK leader T.R. Baalu made an innovative suggestion on Friday: he said though convention demanded that a Cabinet Minister be made the Leader of the House, the Congress could make a departure and give the job to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
However, ever since the possibility of Mr. Mukherjee moving to Rashtrapati Bhavan began to be discussed in Congress circles, it was pointed out that Mr. Nath and Mr. Sis Ram Ola were the two senior most Congress MPs in the House. However, party sources said it was unlikely that either would make it — Mr. Chidambaram and Mr. Shinde, if not for the problems they were going through, were far better suited for the job, they said.