Reinforcing A K Antony’s virtual number 2 slot in UPA-II government’s pecking order, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is understood to have issued a communication that the Defence Minister will chair Union cabinet meetings, if required, during his visit to Iran.
No formal number 2 has been designated since UPA came to power in 2004, but the position is delineated in terms of seniority as the standing instructions are that any emergent situation in Singh’s absence will be considered by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
After the exit of Pranab Mukherjee from the Council of Ministers, Antony seemed to have got the number two position in the government. An indication to this effect had come when Antony was allocated the seat next to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first time at a July 12 cabinet meeting in New Delhi. Antony was allocated the seat to the right of the Prime Minister, where Mukherjee used to sit. The seat next to the Prime Minister on the left side is occupied by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth as usual.
Earlier, Mukherjee, who resigned as Finance Minister on June 26 to contest the Presidential poll, was the de facto number two in the government. He would stay in Delhi whenever the Prime Minister had to go abroad on official visits.