WHO WILL BE ACTING PM NEXT WEEK?
By R Rajagopalan
NEW DELHI: Who will be performing responsibilities of the Prime Minister during Dr Manmohan Singh's one-week absence from India next week to attend the United Nations General Assembly session in New York? He will be flying out on September 21 and will be back on September 28.
Both Dr Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee are flying out to the United States around the same time as otherwise the latter has been performing the PM's duties during his absence as a de facto No 2 in the Cabinet. Mukherjee is going to Washington to attend the 2011 annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund slated from September 23 to 25.
Dr Manmohan Singh will be nominating one of the Cabinet ministers in writing to coordinate on his behalf on any matters requiring urgent decision and chaired the Cabinet and other Cabinet committee meetings that may be necessary.
Though it is a formality, he may like the decision taken at the highest political level and may even approach Congress President Sonia Gandhi, recuperating since after return here last week after a surgery in New York, to decide the name. The issue figured in the Congress core committee meeting he chaired last week, but it was left to him to decide the name in consultation with Sonia Gandhi.
It can be either Home Minister P Chidambaram or Defence Minister A K Antony. The PM would have right away picked up Chidambaram as it is usually the home minister who performs such duties. However, not this time unless Sonia approves.
The PM's dilemma arises from the fact that Sonia Gandhi had last month grafted Antony and not Chidambaram or any other minister from the government in the 4-member caretaker team she formed to run the party when she flew out for the surgery.
In the past, it has been always Pranab Mukherjee who took over responsibilities of the PM and chaired the emergency Cabinet meetings, be it during Dr Manmohan Singh's heart surgery or his foreign trips, including one to Bangladesh last week when the bomb blast at Delhi High Court rocked the nation.