In the absence of any explanation on the government's part for a new-look finance ministry, the unofficial channels of information are overflowing. While most academics and media find this budget-eve reshuffle inexplicable, three possible reasons are being offered, all linked to reforms and quite kind to the government. First, the government wants to bring about hard-hitting changes and the old team had become too set in its ways and thinking to be convinced of them. That's a very good reason but then why did Sarma, who was spearheading the work on the Fiscal Responsibility Act, have to go?
The second reason sees the return of the "Mumbai-based big industrial house", which is reportedly unhappy with the existing finance team and therefore engineered their exit. The third is even wackier: the present team is supposed to have had irreconcilable differences with rbi governor Bimal Jalan.
Musical chairs is not new to Indian babudom. But post-reforms, such reshuffles, especially in the key economic ministries, break the continuity that is vital for them to pursue and impact the decision-making process in any area—not only domestic policy but also global issues like the wto or multilateral aid. Says Sarma: "In the past five years, all the senior bureaucrats have had an average tenure of about seven-eight months in a particular area. That begs the question: is the government serious about reforms at all?"