| NEW DELHI, March 7
NEW DELHI, March 7 Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, whose image has been tarnished by a series of
corruption scandals, faces a fresh political test after a key
coalition partner said it would pull out of the
Singh, 78, is widely seen as holding the fort till Congress
party heir apparent Rahul Gandhi takes over. But with Rahul
showing no indications he is ready, any move by Singh to resign
means party chief Sonia Gandhi will have to look among the most
senior government ministers to fill the top post.
Here are some possible successors:
The No 2 in the cabinet, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee
is Congress's main troubleshooter. While he is the most obvious
candidate, one stumbling block in a party with a long memory is
his expulsion from the Congress following a rift with Sonia
Gandhi's late husband, Rajiv, in 1984.
Mukherjee, 75, is seen more as a political operator than a
zealous economic reformer and this has been reflected in his
budgets, which have catered to Congress's core rural and farmer
Home Minister Chidambaram is one of the most reform-friendly
and efficient ministers in the government, but his personal
ambitions make many in the Congress wary.
The Harvard Business School-educated Chidambaram is not a
political heavyweight, winning elections to parliament in 2009
by a slim majority.
India has seen a drop in militant attacks since the Mumbai
attacks of November 2008 when he took up his post. But
Chidambaram has been less successful tackling a Maoist
insurgency that has raged in large parts of eastern and central
He has been a finance minister and a trade minister in
earlier governments. His budgets have been hailed by corporates,
with the 1997 edition being termed as a "dream budget" for
slashing income, corporate and customs tax rates.
ARACKAPARAMBIL KURIEN ANTHONY
The 70-year-old defence minister is widely seen to be
scrupulously honest, famously resigning on moral grounds as food
minister in 1994 when his ministry was involved in a sugar
import scandal, despite there being no allegations against him.
He has little visibility outside his southern home state of
Kerala. While he is a self-proclaimed atheist, his Christian
roots might be a drawback, given it could expose the
Italian-born Catholic, Sonia Gandhi, to attacks from Hindu
But as someone without lofty ambitions and with his clean
image, Anthony is a perfect candidate to fill Singh's role as a
stop-gap till Rahul decides to take over.
The 40-year-old son of Congress chief Sonia has the prime
ministership for the asking. But he has said he prefers to work
on strengthening the party and has repeatedly declined to join
Educated at Cambridge and Harvard, aides say he would want
to be seen as earning the top job rather than as a member of the
dynasty that has ruled India for 36 of its 63 years of
Rahul is focused on reviving the Congress in its north
Indian heartland, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state
which goes to polls in 2012. Any move to join the government
will come only after that.
Rahul has spoken on the need for India's rapid economic
growth to improve the lives of the poor. While he has said he
favours policies that sustain that growth, many observers see
him aligned to his mother's left-of centre political stance.
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