NEW DELHI (TIP): Home minister Rajnath Singh will sit next to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, occupying the seat left conspicuously vacant, when Parliament meets for the budget session on July 7. The seat allocation seems in keeping with the home portfolio being seen as next in seniority to the PM though there is no hard and fast rule to the effect. Singh’s seating does not necessarily reflect the “number 2” slot which many believe is largely irrelevant with Modi leading a BJP group that commands a clear majority in Lok Sabha.
The seat next to Modi was occupied by BJP veteran L K Advani on the day the 16th Lok Sabha met on June 4 but remained vacant thereafter. In the UPA regimes, Pranab Mukherjee as defence, and later finance minister, was seen as number 2 before he became President. Thereafter, the slot informally went to former defence minister A K Antony. It was only in 2012 that a cabinet secretariat order said the cabinet committee on political affairs – under the senior-most minister – would consider any emergent situation in the PM’s absence.
In fact, when former PM Manmohan Singh went for a cardiac bypass in 2009 just ahead of Republic Day, ceremonial duties were divided between Mukherjee and Antony. As per indications, with Rajnath Singh being allotted the seat, other seats on the NDA front bench will be allotted to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Advani. The front row in the second segment of seats on the treasury side can accommodate one more minister. It could be former BJP president and transport minister Nitin Gadkari.