New Delhi, June 26: A “sentimental” Pranab Mukherjee today resigned as finance minister to embark on a “new journey” that is expected to take him a kilometre further from his North Block office and a world away from four decades of active politics to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took charge of the finance ministry after forwarding Mukherjee’s resignation to President Pratibha Patil.
“I feel honoured and humbled by my nomination as a candidate to run for President. Yet, standing on the brink of such an honour, I also feel a tinge of sentiment at the thought of leaving behind my life as a political activist over four decades,” Mukherjee told reporters outside the finance ministry on his way to the PMO to submit his resignation.
“I have travelled a distance in my life,” Mukherjee said, adding that he was “ready to embark on a new journey.” He would file his nomination papers on Thursday for the presidential polls slated for July 19.
“I know that not every decision that I have taken may be right, (but) my decisions were taken in the interest of the common man,” the 77-year-old politician said.
Mukherjee displayed a streak of humour by telling reporters that “I will also miss being stopped while getting into my car and out of my car in front of the ministry of finance by you all.”
Manmohan, who signed Mukherjee’s nomination papers to run for President, said in a letter expressing confidence in the UPA nominee: “Our colleagues in the cabinet and I have benefited from your wise counsel on innumerable occasions and we will all deeply miss your presence amidst us.”
Mukherjee, who is not known to be an avid sports fan, got a surprise gift on his last day of his office in North Block. Romanian ambassador Valerica Epure, who called on the finance minister, presented a football, perhaps keeping in mind the ongoing Euro 2012. Mukherjee is a life member of East Bengal club since August 2010.
Mukherjee’s tenure has been marked by an uptrend in economic growth in his first two years as finance minister but the past year has eroded much of those gains as a result of growing fiscal deficit, the falling rupee and a continuing global crisis arising out of the euro zone.
The economic growth in the quarter ended March slumped to 5.3 per cent, the lowest in nine years, while the annual rate of growth in 2011-12 slipped to 6.5 per cent after having been above 8 per cent for the previous two years.
The Prime Minister takes over the ministry at a time economic growth is contracting, the rupee is depreciating against the dollar and global investors are complaining of a policy paralysis.
Manmohan, who piloted the economic reforms process in 1991 as finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government, needs to cut subsidies to reduce expenditure; fast-track FDI reforms to bring in investments; introduce insurance and pension reforms; unlock infrastructure spending and kick-start tax reforms through the goods and service tax (GST) and the direct taxes code (DTC).
The tax reforms will take time as they require consensus among parties because Parliament and states are involved. However, it remains to be seen if the Prime Minister will push through administrative measures like FDI in multi-brand retail and diesel price hike.