Nine days after he took charge of the finance ministry after incumbent P Chidambaram was shifted to the home ministry following the terror attacks in Mumbai, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has informed Congress President Sonia Gandhi that a full-time Cabinet minister would be needed for the portfolio because he was extremely busy with other works.
Accordingly, the Congress leadership is now looking for a new finance minister in place of the original plan of appointing a junior minister to help Singh.
Those reportedly in contention for the cabinet-level post include former Karnakata chief minister SM Krishna, Union Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath and Rajya Sabha member and former RBI governor C Rangarajan.
Apart from finance, the prime minister oversees six other ministries - ministry of personnel, public grievances & pensions; planning; department of atomic energy and space; coal; environment and forests; and ministry of information and broadcasting.
Sources said a new cabinet minister for information and broadcasting may also be appointed. Singh was filling in for incumbent Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, who has been critically ill for several months.
Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who stood in for the PM on Sunday in announcing the Rs 30,000-crore (Rs 300 billion) stimulus package, is reportedly not being considered because the Congress leadership wants a politician to head the ministry and answer questions in Parliament, which opens on Wednesday.
Sources added that Ahluwalia is also called "the World Bank man" (where he worked for several years), which might not go down well ahead of elections.
Ahluwalia was, first, economic affairs secretary and later finance secretary in Manmohan Singh's "dream team" in the finance ministry, which initiated economic reforms in the early nineties.
SM Krishna is currently not a member of Parliament but Congress sources said it is possible to be a minister for six months without being a member of a House. Both he and Nath are considered strong contenders because they are Congressmen.
C Rangarajan is the prime minister's choice because of his vast experience as RBI governor (1992 to 1997). A section of the party feels that although he doesn't come from a political background, his skills and experience will come handy in dealing with the difficult economic situation as India feels the heat of the global economic meltdown.
The names of two Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni are also doing the rounds - Minister of State for Power and Commerce and Industry Jairam Ramesh, and Arjun Kumar Sengupta.
Sengupta is a Rajya Sabha MP whose candidature was supported by both the Left and the Congress when he contested from West Bengal as an independent candidate. The CPI(M) leadership has told the Congress that it will move a notice to scrap his membership if Sengupta, who describes himself as a "Congress-minded independent parliamentarian", becomes a minister.