The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Guessing game on Singh aide

New Delhi, Dec. 1: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took charge of the vital finance ministry yesterday after sending P. Chidambaram to the home ministry, could bring a trusted aide on board to run North Block on a daily basis.

Singh has two choices if he decides to have a full-fledged cabinet colleague: C. Rangarajan, former Reserve Bank governor and former chairman of the PM’s economic advisory council, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

Ahluwalia was his lieutenant at North Block when Singh was the finance minister in the 1990s.

However, many within Congress argue that Singh can keep the portfolio himself for the next five months before general elections are called, while opting for a minister of state to actually run the ministry. In that case, he may look at less high profile individuals, including politicians, for the job.

Congressmen may insist that Singh, who has been credited with crafting India’s economic turnaround in the 1990s, handle the finance portfolio during a period of global turmoil and with a general election round the corner.

The huge burden of handling the prime ministership may leave him with very little time to actually run the finance ministry. Singh currently runs the ministries of information and broadcasting, coal, environment, atomic energy, space and personnel, besides the finance ministry and the PMO.

The finance ministry already has two ministers of state — Pawan Bansal and S.S. Palanimanickam, say North Block officials. This could be rectified through a minor reshuffle.

Rangarajan was made a member of the Rajya Sabha a couple of months ago, when the economic crisis in India started deepening. Many within the Congress saw this as a sign that he may eventually be asked to take charge at North Block.

The former RBI governor is a financial conservative and may be the right man to lead the country through a tight fiscal and economic situation.

Rangarajan is known to be close to Singh and has been part of a circle of trusted friends and advisers who have helped the Prime Minister manage economic growth through difficult times.

Ahluwalia, who is perhaps closer to Singh on a personal level, has served as finance secretary when his mentor was the finance minister. However, he already has his hands full in crafting and monitoring key populist schemes such as the employment guarantee scheme and mid-day meal scheme.

Many argue that Singh will be wary of bringing in a favourite who has previously been targeted both by party colleagues and the Opposition on economic issues.

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