MANMOHAN SINGH will be a hard act to follow. But the question—who'll be the next government's finance minister—doesn't arise if a Congress-led coalition comes to power. Dr Singh will be back in the saddle to take his reforms into the next phase.
Though initial reports suggested that Jaswant Singh would get the finance portfolio if a BJP-led coalition forms the government, in the last couple of weeks the scales seem to have tilted in favour of Murli Manohar Joshi. While Singh is staunchly pro-reforms, Joshi is stridently pro-swadeshi. There's also a chance that since Manmohan Singh captured the heart of the nation as a non-political minister who had the academic qualifications for the job, the BJP too may opt for someone non-political, an economist who is not necessarily saffron in his political beliefs, but whose economic thinking is similar to a large extent to the BJP's.
As for the NF-LF, if the Left decides to participate in the government, something it has shied away from traditionally, the reforms-friendly Somnath Chatterjee may get the job. The dark horse is economist Ashok Mitra, but his temperament and absence of diplomatic skills are being seen as handicaps. If the Left prefers to stay out of the government, the mantle may fall on the articulate Jaipal Reddy.