Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has once again ducked the question of who is No. 2 in the Union Cabinet in the working arrangements he made during his 4-day Iran visit.
A secret note issued by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth to 10 Union ministers on 'arrangements in place' in the PM's absence on the day he left for Iran says, The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs will decide on issues of national urgency. In the prime minister's absence, the CCPA will be presided over by the senior-most minister."
It, however, does not state who the senior-most minister is. Instead, the next paragraph says, "Either the minister of defence, or the minister of finance, or the minister of home affairs may remain in Delhi."
A section of media interpreted this as Defence Minister A K Antony to be virtually No 2, followed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.
The pecking order, if deduced from the serial order of the ministers to whom the secret order is addressed, is Antony, Agriculture Miniser Sharad Pawar, Chidambaram, Foreign Minister S M Krishna, Shinde, Renewable Energy Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Chemicals & Fertilisers Minister M K Alagiri.
Going by the order of seniority, it will be Pawar after Antony to preside over the CCPA in his absence. The secret letter was addressed to all the 10 CCPA members to bring to their notice the 'directions of the prime minister'.