Mukherjee is point person again on matters economic (Profile)

May 23rd, 2009 - 5:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arvind Padmanabhan
New Delhi, May 23 (IANS) Veteran Congress party leader Pranab Mukherjee, who has been given the finance portfolio, will have his hands full in the coming weeks and months as he has the onerous task of lifting the Indian economy out of its current woes, presenting a national budget and get reforms back on track.

Gifted with an agile mind and a photogenic memory, the 73-year-old journalist-turned-politician is, nevertheless, expected to walk into North Block rather comfortably. For Finance is not a new portfolio for him, as he held additional charge of the ministry since this January when Prime Minister Manmohan had to undergo a heart surgery.

Nor is Mukherjee uncomfortable with matters economic.

The prime minister had such faith in his economic acumen that he had asked him to chair some 60 ministerial groups, many of them on technical economic matters like gas pricing, frequency spectrum and broadband policy, even though he already had his hands full in the external affairs ministry.

Mukherjee also presented the interim budget for this fiscal and has to present a regular budget by July 31 or take a new vote on account.

“We will have to prioritise. The economy has to be brought back on rail. We will have to insulate it from the adverse effect of financial crisis,” he told reporters here, soon after he was inducted as a cabinet minister Friday, comprehending well the difficult times in which he has taken charge of the finance portfolio.

The economic growth has slipped sharply from the high 9 percent average growth between 2005-06 and 2007-08, industrial output has declined, exports have dipped, fiscal deficit has ballooned and revenue mop up has failed to keep pace with the needs.

Yet industry is optimistic that the political stability for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as the result of the surprise electoral verdict will help accelerate the reforms agenda, for which the new finance ministry has enough experience.

Elected to the Lok Sabha from Jangipur in Murshidabad district, Mukherjee had presided over the finance ministry even earlier as a cabinet minister from January 1982 to December 1984 under then prime minister Indira Gandhi and briefly under her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi.

This apart, the pipe-smoking politician, who has a master’s degree in history and political science, and a bachelor’s degree in law, has handled a host of economic portfolios.

During his four-decade association with politics, he held additional charge of commerce ministry between September and December 1984 and was in the finance ministry before that as a minister of state from October 1974 to December 1975.

He has also served as a minister for revenue and banking with independent charge from December 1975 to March 1977. And between June 1991 and May 1996, he was deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and cabinet minister for Commerce, Steel and Mines for two years starting January 1980.

Among other economic portfolios handled by him during his long political career are steel, mines, industry, shipping and transport.

Over the past six months, Mukherjee had also been addressing a host of business seminars and meetings, besides keeping the media busy with remarks on foreign policy, notably on the country’s immediate neighbourhood.

He was not only the keynote speaker at the high-profile Partnership Summit of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) last December but was also chief guest at the annual meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in February.

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