A unique distinction for Pranab

A unique distinction for Pranab

No other finance minister in independent India has presented an interim Budget before the elections and then followed that up with a regular Budget for the same year after being voted back to power.

The other distinction of 73-year-old Mukherjee was that no other finance minister has presented two regular Budgets with as large a gap between them as 25 years.

His last three Budgets were presented between 1982 and 1984. Mukherjee, who was rated as the best finance minister in the world in 1984 in a survey by Euromoney magazine, had also presented the interim budget before the recent elections.

Mukherjee's budget presentation today was heard with rapt attention by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was serving as RBI Governor when he was the finance minister in the Indira Gandhi government in the early eighties.

And when the West Bengal politician sporting a spotless white bandgala suit wound his way through the budget speech India Inc can hardly forget how Mukherjee's maiden budget in 1982 shook the country's leaders of their complacence.

In a bid to attract investments from Indians living abroad, Mukherjee, then a pipe chomping politician, allowed NRIs to buy shares of companies quoted on the stock exchanges subject to specified limits, among many other incentives.

The policy change sought by Mukherjee in an effort to open up the economy to NRIs as a step towards opening up to the world led to the controversial takeover bid by London-based Swaraj Paul of the Caparo group on DCM and Escorts in 1983. The bids however did not succeed.

Mukherjee's three-year stint as finance minister between 1982 and 1984 was noted for India not withdrawing the last 1.1 billion USD instalment of a IMF loan.

However, Mukehrjee's third budget in 1984 in some sense anticipated quite a bit of reforms that were to sweep the Indian economy in less than a decade.

Mukherjee's prime minister, Manmohan Singh (finance minister from 1991 to 1996), presented the Interim Budget for 1996-97 before the polls, but the Congress lost the general elections held in April-May 1996.

P Chidambaram became the finance minister under the United Front government and presented the regular Budget in July 1996.

Yashwant Sinha faced a similar fate. As finance minister in the Chandra Shekhar government, he presented the Interim Budget for 1991-92, but his party lost the elections, paving the way for the P V Narasimha Rao government.

Jaswant Singh also presented the Interim Budget for 2004-05, but the National Democratic Alliance did not return to power after the elections. It was Chidambaram, this time under the United Progressive Alliance, who presented the regular Budget for 2004-05.

There have been nine more Interim Budgets since Independence. However, none of these was presented before the elections.

Pranab's first Budget referred to the government's rationale for seeking recourse to an SDR 5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund under its extended fund facility.

The Indira Gandhi government was under attack for seeking the IMF loan that its opponents feared would jeopardise India's economic sovereignty. In a bid to assuage such sentiments, Mukherjee had said in his Budget speech that the loan "will help us implement our own policies, which have been sanctioned and approved by our people and Parliament".

In his third Budget in 1984, Mukherjee referred to the IMF loan again. But this time he talked about the government's decision to return the last tranche of the loan.

In a triumphant tone, Mukherjee said, "Belying the prophecies of doom by many a self styled cassandra, the economy haas emerged  stronger as a result af the adjustment effort mounted by us.

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