Is Chidambaram positioning himself for PM role?

Of all the political reactions to the quota grenade hurled into the UPA camp, the most curious and inexplicable has been that of Palaniappan Chidambaram.

The Harvard-educated pro-reforms Union finance minister has been an out-and-out supporter of Arjun Singh's proposal to reserve 27 per cent seats in institutions of higher learning for the Other Backward Classes. Volubly, vociferously so.

To his detractors, and there are many, who have long seen him as a hand-maiden of the World Bank, big business and corporate interests, Indian and foreign, Chidambaram's support for the quota move—and by extension to Meira Kumar's proposal for reservations in private sector—is baffling, mystifying.

Is the ambitious finance minister, a distinguished Supreme Court lawyer, who had no answer to Karan Thapar last night when asked if he sent his son to Texas and Cambridge because of what reservations had done to education in the South, really convinced of its benefits?

Or, by doing the counterintuitive thing, is he positioning himself for a bigger role, maybe even the prime ministership, if Manmohan Singh becomes dispensable in the eyes of Sonia Gandhi, and the cry goes up in the Congress for a more "political" PM? Is he making himself more attractive to UPA allies by batting with aplomb for quotas?

And is this why the Left parties are relentlessly gunning for Chidambaram on the fuel price hike issue? Is this why they are refusing to be convinced by the cut in sales taxes by the States and why they are pushing him to reduce central levies? Do they suspect that he could be the next PM?