As envisaged, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took over finance portfolio after Pranab Mukherjee was declared the Presidential candidate of the UPA. Immediately, Manmohan Singh started taking measures to resurrect the faltering economy of the country. There are several reasons that are responsible for this situation but the biggest factor is lack of decisiveness shown by the government towards economic reforms. Soon after Pranab Mukherjee quit as a Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh was quick to state that Pranab Mukherjee’s absence would be felt badly, but the kind of vigor shown by Manmohan Singh after taking over the Finance Ministry clearly reflects that even the Prime Minister was shying away to stand robust against Mukherjee’s political stature.

Manmohan Singh hail from apolitical background and is primarily known as an economist. Sonia Gandhi refused to become the Prime Minister after the 2004 general election and chose her trusted ally Manmohan Singh who was considered to be a very clean man suitable for the Prime Minister. During the tenure of UPA I, P Chidambaram was the Finance Minister with whom Manmohan Singh had a good understanding. After the Mumbai attacks when Chidambaram was shifted to the Home Ministry it was Manmohan Singh who had looked after the Finance Ministry for a brief spell. During the second tenure of UPA, Pranab Mukherjee was made Finance Minister. Considering his experience and political odyssey, Mukherjee was not only made the chief of more than four dozen GoMs but also entrusted with the responsibility of bailing out the party in difficult circumstances. It is very clear that Pranab Mukherjee was doing all that that the Prime Minister was expected to do. This somehow forced the people to think that Pranab’s political clout was bigger than that of the Prime Minister.

After assuming direct charge of the finance portfolio, Manmohan Singh has indicated several changes in the decisions made by Pranab Mukherjee, sparking off many questions. If the decisions taken by Pranab Mukherjee were not up to the mark, why didn’t the Cabinet especially the Prime Minister put any pressure on him? Was Mukherjee’s political stature so towering that even UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi seemed to be feeling dwarf, being unable to rework the decision taken by him? Everyone has a different stand on a matter and Pranab Mukherjee also might have had his own thoughts on the economy but it is pertinent why was he never asked that his decisions were hampering economic development of the country? Now, the Prime Minister is not only reviewing his decision but the Finance Ministry officials are being asked to create an environment that does not show Indian economy in bad light. Couldn’t Pranab Mukherjee be suggested on the same? It is sad that despite being an economist neither did Manmohan Singh give any suggestions to Pranab Mukherjee nor did Mukherjee feel the need to take any suggestion from the Prime Minister.

Fingers cannot be raised towards Pranab Mukherjee’s political acumen. He has not only had vast political experiences but also appreciated by the opposition parties owing to his impeccable image. In his long political career of over four decades, Mukherjee has handled several ministries and done some extraordinary work. In 1983 he was hailed as the best Finance Minister by the Euro Money Magazine. Despite of his political acumen there seems lack of coordination between top ministers of the UPA government. The way the Centre has failed on economic front proves that the Prime Minister has political limitations and with Sonia Gandhi taking a backseat due to health problems Manmohan Singh seems to be facing problems in leading the cabinet. Now, what needs to be seen is whether other ministers like Pranab Mukherjee work on their own terms and conditions. After Mukherjee’s exit, it is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to consolidate his position in the government as often it is said that he does not have any political background and is therefore considered to be weak. He is often seen as someone who is governed by 10 Janpath. This power equation worked fine in UPA’S first tenure but now the situation is different. Sonia Gandhi’s health can be termed as major factor but Rahul Gandhi’s unwillingness to take the mantle is another reason.

The problems confronting the nation today is very grave. Pranab Mukherjee’s exit will certainly leave a void within the party but if that gives the Prime Minister an opportunity to prove his capabilities then the decision to nominate Mukherjee as the Presidential candidate was a right move.  Probably Pranab Mukherjee knew that differences of opinion are hurting the party and hence chose to fight the Presidential elections. His exit has given an opportunity to the Prime Minister to take some important decisions on economic front. As several rounds of meetings were called by the Prime Minister after taking over charge of finance portfolio raises some hope of reviving the economy, but this has to be translated into action. The big question that still lingers in our mind is will Manmohan Singh be able to assert himself strongly in the Cabinet on matters related to economy or will he once again appear helpless in handling the issue?

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on July 1, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)