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PM's "reforms team" back with a bang!

By Renu Mittal
June 30, 2012 00:58 IST
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The original reforms trio of 1991, which showed the way for the opening up of the Indian economy, is now back with a bang. At that time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was Narasimha Rao's finance minister, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia was his finance secretary and Rangarajan was the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India. They set the ball rolling and became the "reform priests", a journey which has come full circle today.

And now in 2012, with Pranab Mukherjee demitting office as the finance minister, Dr Singh has securely wrapped his hands around the finance portfolio amid chants that the reforms process was being derailed by a "left of the centre Dada".

And while Ahluwalia is not in his official team, it is no secret that much of the work, particularly policy decisions on reforms, would be made in consultation with deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

Already big time corporates are making a beeline for Montek and suddenly the business houses, top industry honchos, big-ticket bureaucrats and the attendant paraphernalia are all wearing big smiles. The mood is that with "dada" going to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, it would be easier to do business, something they were not comfortable with when he was at the helm of affairs.

And Rangarajan is expected to come into the Prime Minister's Office as a mainline advisor with a hands on approach since Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is not comfortable with a bureaucratic face as the next finance minister, considering that elections are around the corner and the party does not want to heighten the image of a government being run by bureaucrats, especially in top positions.

And the buzz from the PMO is that Dr Manmohan Singh wants his hot favourite Ashwini Kumar as the new minister of state in the finance ministry to deal with burning questions on the finance sector and to defend the government whenever required.

The line being fed is that Kumar has exposure of being a spokesman and because of his proximity to the PM, he would be in the know of sensitive decisions taken.

While astonished Congressmen are watching the action scenes being enacted in the PMO and the return of the prime minister's favourites, Sonia Gandhi is content that the prime minister is the face of the finance ministry, never mind what happens behind the scenes.

The other decision which has surprised Congressmen is the handing over of the Empowered Group of Ministers on telecom to Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

Pawar has already convened a meeting on Monday at Krishi Bhavan to discuss spectrum. The fact that Sharad Pawar has been entrusted with the EGOM on a subject which caused the government nothing but endless headaches may be the reason why the prime minister wants to keep his hands clean.

Or maybe, as some people suggest, powerful business houses who have a lot riding on telecom sector may be using the opportunity to get a "level playing field", especially a certain business leader who has been having sleepless nights over his telecom forays.


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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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