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After Pranab's exit, THESE will keep Congress busy

Last updated on: July 2, 2012 09:24 IST

After Pranab's exit, THESE will keep Congress busy

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There is no one who can step into Pranab Mukherjee's shoes and multiple leaders may be needed to fulfill his roles in the Congress and the government led by it, says Neerja Chowdhury

With Pranab Mukherjee now out of the finance ministry and his election to the President's post a foregone conclusion, attention has now turned elsewhere -- to the tasks that lie before the government and the ruling party.

The exit of Mukherjee, who was somewhat like a banyan tree, has left the situation open for others to step into the gaps that he leaves behind. There is no one who can step into Mukherjee's shoes and multiple leaders may be needed to fulfill his roles.

Different roles may be assigned to different people or a certain role may be split. Mukherjee had not only provided leadership in Lok Sabha but handled the opposition behind the scenes and brought them around whenever there was an impasse in Parliament.

It is possible that the new leader of the House can look after its affairs and be assisted by party managers, who will help him manage crisis situations and confrontations. Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has emerged as the frontrunner for the position, with the party high command coming to the conclusion that there is nothing against him in the Adarsh scam case. An experienced leader like Ghulam Nabi Azad may assist him as the minister of parliamentary affairs.

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Image: Pranab Mukherjee
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty/Rediff.com

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After Pranab's exit, THESE will keep Congress busy

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The prime minister, who has taken over the reins of the finance ministry, has lost no time in swinging into action. He has spoken about "reviving the animal spirit in the economy" and undoing the pessimism prevalent in the country.

The PM was trying to demonstrate that he means business about taking the reform process forward. His image as an economist has taken a beating worldwide and with India Inc, which had given up on him in the last two years after his government was accused of policy paralysis.

Within 24 hours of Mukherjee's exit, the PM tried to demonstrate that his number one task was to restore investor confidence in the Indian economy. There are indications that the PM has decided to "look afresh" at the retro tax against Vodafone, for this, probably more than any other single move, had sent negative signals to foreign investors.

The PM was reportedly aghast when Mukherjee had introduced it, and though the former finance minister had agreed to meet the representatives of the United Kingdom-based company at the request of the PM, he had refused to undo the policy.

In the last two days, the finance ministry has moved a proposal to impose a monetary limit to attract General Anti-tax Avoidance and the government is trying to speed up the process on the GST; SEBI has ruled out reintroduction of entry load in mutual funds, suggesting sops to retail investors. For the moment, these are straws in the wind, like trial balloons, to test the response.

The prime minister is obviously using this opportunity to send a clear message that, as far he is concerned, he means business, though any action will follow only after the presidential poll is over.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
Tags: SEBI , GST , India Inc , THESE

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After Pranab's exit, THESE will keep Congress busy

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Dr Singh is also moving strategically and striking while the iron is hot, so to speak, or rather while the area is still grey as far as Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Bannerjee is concerned. She has managed to put a spoke in the wheel of the United Progressive Alliance's economic agenda at every turn.

As of now, it is not clear what position the Trinamool Congress will take in the presidential poll and the bearing it will have on its relationship with the UPA. Right now, for all practical purposes, the Trinamool Congress is neither out of the UPA nor really in it.

The Congress is banking heavily on the support of the Samajwadi Party for economic reforms. There were indications last week from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav that the SP will be willing to look at some of the measures provided its concerns were addressed.

The PM is again moving with the old team he is comfortable with, comprising Montek Singh Ahluwalia and C Rangarajan. The inclusion of Principal Secretary Pulok Chatterji, who is close to 10 Janpath, showed that Congress president Sonia Gandhi was also on board.

Sonia Gandhi is believed to have told the PM that she wanted him to do everything possible to put the economy back on track, for if there is one issue which has damaged the party's poll prospects in election after election in recent times, it is price rise.

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Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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After Pranab's exit, THESE will keep Congress busy

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There is talk once again in Congress circles that Rahul Gandhi will take over "very soon" as number two in the party -- either as the working president or the vice-president -- and a shakeup in the organisation is on the cards.

The critical question which will face the party is how to get its act together in the run-up to the 11 elections in 2012-13 and the general election in 2014. Should it go back to the politics of alliances and shed the go-solo plan that Rahul Gandhi had put in place to revive the party?

It has to be remembered that Sonia Gandhi had successfully struck alliances after the Congress was routed in north Indian states in the winter of 2003 and taken the party to power in 2004.

The Congress may be compelled to make alliances again, say with Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav in Bihar. It also seems to be keeping the door ajar for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has threatened to walk out of the National Democratic Alliance if Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is projected as the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate.

Kumar's party, the Janata Dal-United, is voting for Mukherje and the Centre has decided to release a Rs 20,000 crore package for Bihar. The trouble is that there is little the Congress brings to the table in Bihar.

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Image: Ram Vilas Paswan with Lalu Yadav
Photographs: Krishna Murari Kishan/Reuters

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After Pranab's exit, THESE will keep Congress busy

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Without Mulayam Singh Yadav's help, the UPA might have found it difficult to send its candidate to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Earlier it was argued that there was no reason why Mulayam should go with the Congress when he could win 40-50 seats on his own in the Lok Sabha election.

But now, with the possibility of Modi being projected as the face of the BJP, Mulayam could plump for a tie-up with the Congress to prevent the Muslim community from gravitating towards the Congress to ward off the Gujarat CM in a national election. Though the SP has for the moment ruled out joining the UPA, much will depend on how the situation develops nationally and what happens in the Gujarat elections, scheduled to be held at the end of the year.

The Congress is keen to have the Samajwadi Party join the government to lend it a measure of stability and end the so-called policy paralysis and this may happen later this year. But the party will also have to weigh in on the reaction it would evoke from Mayawati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party supports the UPA from outside.

The Congress has drawn comfort from the fact that it has had the support of Mamata, Mulayam and Mayawati and was in a position to off-set one against the other, if any one of them became difficult. That is why the Congress is trying hard to retain Mamata's presence in the UPA, notwithstanding differences on the presidential candidate.

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Image: Mulayam Singh Yadav
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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