New Delhi:  With Pranab Mukherjee being named the UPA's candidate for President, avid speculation on who would replace him began almost immediately in the Congress on Friday.

Mukherjee's possible elevation to the high office would mean the party would have to find two people who could replace him as finance minister and leader of the house in the Lok Sabha.

The redoubtable number two for decades, Mukherjee has been the chief troubleshooter for the United Progressive Alliance government through many a crisis.

According to party insiders, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may like to appoint Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia or C. Rangarajan, who heads the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, as the next finance minister, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi would prefer a party veteran for the key cabinet post.

Ahluwalia's controversial remarks over the new poverty line at Rs.32 per day have already ruffled a lot of feathers in the party as well as among the allies.

Among the names being discussed in the party and circles include senior leaders like Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, Human Resource Development and Communications Minister Kapil Sibal and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Sharma had recently taken a potshot at Ramesh for his "new found love for economic reforms" by suggesting that fertiliser, fuel and food subsidies, which target the Congress' key constituency of farmers and the common man, be done away with to reduce fiscal deficit.

Though Home Minister P. Chidambaram may also like to throw in his hat in the race to fill up the vacancy in the neighbouring North Block office, which he once occupied, the Congress leadership may not like to move him, given his track record in controlling terrorism, said some sources.

The sources further said that in case the Trinamool chief, who is opposed to Mukherjee's candidature for the high office, decides to pull out of the UPA, there could be a vacancy in Rail Bhavan, headed by Banerjee's confidant Mukul Roy.

"There is no dearth of talent in the party...new faces will emerge to face new challenges," said a senior Congress leader indicating that finding a replacement for both Mukherjee and Roy would not be much of a problem.

(Agencies)

Latest news from India News Desk