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Mukherjee a free man now

July 07, 2009 10:48 IST

"So what!" quipped Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram when asked for a reaction to the Budget, which revoked most of the measures that he introduced as the finance minister.

This was his only comment as he rushed to North Block from Parliament minutes after Pranab Mukherjee presented the Budget.

Chidambaram did not wait to hear the next observation: Even as estranged allies like Lalu Prasad came and congratulated Mukherjee for his Budget, Chidambaram was not seen anywhere around Mukherjee.

Nor did he frequently thump his desk along with other UPA members, when his successor rolled-out out a succession of announcements.

Mukherjee might have missed his predecessor's appreciation, but on Monday he got back his two mobile phones from his aide Pradyut Guha. The veteran politician had stopped carrying his cellphones as a precautionary measure during the last two weeks.

They were handed over to Guha with instructions to return them only after the Budget is over.

He had restricted his meetings with visitors since June, but every night he went through the "Dak files" to personally read all the letters with various appeals.

During the last two days, he never got angry, was extremely relaxed and had normal food. The only difference was in today's routine: He woke up at 5 o'clock. (He usually gets up between 7 am and 7:30 am). Mukherjee told Business Standard, "I am more punctual today!"

Mukherjee, who hates to be interrupted when he speaks, lost his cool when Mulayam Singh Yadav stood up and inquired about income tax benefits for Members of Parliament.

"You sit down, Mulayam Singhji, this is an important announcement and many people need to hear it," he snapped at the Samajwadi Party chief before reading out the abolition of the Commodity Transaction Tax.

Soon, Lalu Prasad also interrupted to demand a special relief package for Kosi flood victims in Bihar. This time, the FM was more patient. He not only assured Prasad that he would look into the matter, but later when Prasad came to shake hands with him, Mukherjee hugged the RJD chief with a broad smile.

Sonia Gandhi was standing next to Mukheree but she, however, decided to avoid Prasad.

When Chidambaram presented his Budget, his wife and daughter-in-law were always present in the Speaker's Gallery. On Monday, when Mukherjee reached a personal milestone by becoming the first finance minister of India to present the consecutive budgets, of the previous government as well as a new government, his adopted son and daughter-in-law listened with rapt attention in the Speaker's gallery.

Before Mukherjee announced his tax proposals, he requested the Speaker: "Let me have a glass of water." This elicited laughter. Before he announced duty exemptions on jewellery, he said, "I have to avoid a dent in my popularity among women."

This was also the occasion when, after a gap of 25 years, two ministers from West Bengal presented both the Railway and the General Budget.

However, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee was not very happy with the outcome. When Mukherjee announced a special relief package of Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) for the Aila cyclone victims that rocked Bengal, the Congress MP from Jammu region, Lal Singh, turned back to congratulate Banerjee, sitting in the second-last bench.

The railway minister offered a dry smile as the proposal for the Rs 1,000-crore (Rs 10 billion) relief package was a request by the Left-ruled West Bengal government.

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