Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Sunday said that exclusion of Pranab Mukherjee in Narasimha Rao’s cabinet in 1991 surprised everybody, and other “mainstream” leaders might have declined the Finance Ministry, known to be “bed of thorns” at that point.
“I was sitting with Mukherjee and he was pretty confident of getting inducted into the cabinet, whether it was Finance or Foreign Ministry. When the cabinet was announced, we were all surprised that Mukherjee was not there,” Chidambaram said, during a panel discussion on ‘Narasimha Rao: The Forgotten Hero’ at the Tata Literature Live festival here.
Rao and Mukherjee were very close from the times of Indira Gandhi, he said, adding that once Mukherjee was ruled out, there was no other senior Congress leader who could be considered for the Finance Ministry, paving the way for an outsider.
“So while we were surprised that he chose Dr Manmohan Singh, the party was not shocked, everybody knew finance was a bed of thorns. Any other mainstream politician who did not have a background of finance or industry, if he had been offered Finance Ministry at that time, maybe, he would have declined, asking to be made Agriculture or Industries Minister,” he said.
“We knew his (Rao’s) first choice was (former RBI governor) I G Patel. IG himself told me that. I wouldn’t call it (Dr Singh) second (choice) but an alternate choice... We were surprised but not shocked,” said Chidambaram, who himself held the Finance portfolio later in Manmohan Singh cabinet.
Chidambaram also said that Rao, who came to power after the 1991 elections, faced three major “decision points” in the first month, namely, devaluation of currency which was opposed by Congress party, “industrial policy resolution” and disinvestment.