Pranab Mukherjee wants the ultimate top job

Vol 14, PW 15 (27 Jan 11) People & Policy

Believe conspiracy theorists and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is positioning himself to be next prime minister of India.

Well-placed sources in India’s domestic intelligence service tell this report 79-year-old Manmohan Singh is fed up with the endless tide of corruption scandals engulfing his administration and may surprise the country with a resignation announcement in May, after the budget session in parliament. Mukherjee, it seems, is secretly using this ‘opportunity’ to advance his prime ministerial ambitions.

“He is 76,” we hear. “This is his last chance.

” Over the past weeks Mukherjee has begun brokering peace with a resurgent opposition, emboldened by a stream of damaging corruption scandals, to ensure an orderly budget session that begins with parliament assembling on February 21, and continues after the budget speech Mukherjee delivers on February 28. Only Sonia Gandhi, Congress president and ‘first lady’ of Indian politics can stand in Mukherjee’s way, we hear.

But here too, the wily finance minister is preparing his ground, manoeuvering to loosen the Gandhi family’s iron grip on power. How else to explain a landmark ruling on January 3, in which Delhi’s Income Tax Apellate Tribunal said Indian tax is liable on bribes paid to the late Indian agent Win Chadha and the Italian businessman and Gandhi family friend Ottavio Quattrocchi in the infamous Bofors howitzer deal Not for nothing did senior Congress leader and Gandhi family loyalist Digvijay Singh find the timing of the tax tribunal order ‘intriguing’.

As finance minister, Mukherjee controls income tax, money laundering and other powerful departments that can corner the Gandhi family over their links to earlier scams, in particular the 1986 arms deal with Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors, where large illegal payments found their way to Swiss bank accounts.