Pranab Mukherjee’s initials are PM. But everyone in the Finance Ministry is convinced he’s the one moving to Rashtrapati Bhavan in the next few weeks.
In the capital, the mercury may have fallen after a bout of pre-monsoon showers. But the political temperature is rising. Officers in the finance ministry are sensitive to temperature. Work is on with breathless speed to get the Finance Minister’s signature on the residual Budget-related notifications. Officers with sharp antennae have told juniors to get files cleared while the going is good, because ‘an announcement’ may come any day.
Today, Mukherjee had a conversation with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader T R Baalu. Along with other colleagues, Baalu met the Prime Minister and the Congress president in what was the second round of consultations about the next President of the country.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is watching the situation carefully. A leader pointed out Mukherjee was not present at the meeting on infrastructure the Prime Minister chaired yesterday. Several telecom operators are agog. They are expecting a new chief of the empowered group of ministers on telecom soon.
Equations are changing fast within the government as well. Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) have now begun liaising with the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) in the finance ministry to firm up plans in power and other infrastructure sectors. More calls are going directly to officers in North Block from the PMO now than in the entire three-year period that Mukherjee was minister. The DEA’s original role — as the coordinating wing of government between various ministries and the PMO — appears to have been restored. The road between North Block and South Block is suddenly getting narrower. A few weeks ago, the distance was so vast as to be almost unbridgeable.
Ministers have openly begun discussing the possible candidates for a Cabinet reshuffle, which would become inevitable if a vacancy is created.
What is obvious is that Mukherjee appears to be in exit mode. Today, he did something he has never done in his life: he travelled to the Delhi suburb of NOIDA, which has a film city, to inaugurate a music CD by Bollywood singer Kumar Sanu, who hails from West Bengal. Clearly, Mukherjee is in ribbon-cutting mode.