New Delhi: In what may be construed as an indication of the pecking order in the UPA government after Pranab Mukherjee’s exit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has designated Defence Minister AK Antony as the No 2 in his cabinet.
As per the list of ministers released by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) – on its website - after the latest reshuffle of the Union Cabinet on Sunday, Antony has been ranked number two in PM Manmohan’s team.
Next after Antony in the list is Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, followed by Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
The order in which the cabinet ministers are named in the PMO list gains importance as it comes in the backdrop of the near open squabble between the Congress and NCP over the Sharad Pawar not being given the number two slot in the cabinet after Pranab Mukherjee’ exit.
Reinforcing Antony`s position, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ahead of his Iran visit, had issued a communication that the Defence Minister will chair Union Cabinet meetings, if required.
Also, Antony was seen seated next to the Prime Minister in several Union Cabinet meetings.
Earlier, Mukherjee used to sit next to the Prime Minister, followed by Pawar. Antony was next and then Home minister P Chidambaram.
However, the new order of precedence makes it clear that the Congress leadership wants to retain the number two position and not assign it to Pawar, who belongs to the NCP.
At a recent meeting of the Union Cabinet, Pawar was seen sitting next to PM, giving an impression that the Maratha leader may be the No. 2 as he was also asked to head the EGoM on telecom vacated by Mukherjee.
Interestingly, Antony was not present at that meeting as he was away in Cochin. In the midst of a standoff between NCP and Congress on issues, including the number 2 slot to Pawar, Antony said that all members of the Union Cabinet are equal.
As per reports, there are no official guidelines about the pecking order in the Union Cabinet and the hierarchy is decided solely by the Prime Minister, based on political inputs and power equations within the ruling coalition.
Significantly, what remains to be seen now is whether NCP, an important UPA ally, will accept Antony being given charge of the government in the absence of the PM.