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PM, Pranab head for US: AK Antony in charge?


Nov 29, 2010
NEW DELHI: Next week Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will both be in the US with no formal word on who will hold charge although defence minister A K Antony is seen as the man for the job.

Advanced communication makes distances irrelevant but careful ambiguity over naming a "number 2" or, in the current scenario, a "number 3" does not seem likely to change any time soon. The PM will be away from September 21-26 and Mukherjee from September 23-25.

Senior government sources said going by "seniority" it will be Antony who will conduct proceedings in the unlikely event the cabinet needs to meet. He will also be the point person for consultations within the government or with Congress.

In the National Democratic Alliance government, L K Advani's designation as deputy PM formalized his number 2 and successor tag. As NDA lost the 2004 election, the second part of the deputy PM statement was never put to test. Since then, there has been no formal number 2.

A recent WikiLeaks disclosure revealed that ahead of PM Manmohan Singh's heart surgery in early 2009, a foreign ministry official told US diplomats that Mukherjee had taken over as acting PM and would discharge such functions.

There was, however, no instruction in writing, a move that is seen to have been deliberate. When it came to saluting martyrs at Amar Jawan Jyoti before the January 26 parade, Antony was specifically asked by the Congress leadership to stand in for the PM. Clearly, there would be no overt political signal about who stands in for Singh.

The lack of clarity is perhaps meant to ensure that Singh is seen as the leadership's choice and this message is not muddled in any manner. Despite the buffeting the government has received on corruption scandals and an increase in dissonance with Congress over policy, the PM-Sonia Gandhi equations are seen to be rock solid.

As the PM readies for his visit to the UN General Assembly and Mukherjee prepares for IMF-World Bank meetings, the unsaid word is that "Antonyji" will be in charge if the need arises while the government remains without its two senior leaders.

PM, Pranab head for US: AK Antony in charge? - The Times of India

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