NEW DELHI, June 26, 2012 (AFP) – Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stepped down Tuesday, leaving behind a faltering economy and a plunging rupee as he set his sights on the country’s presidency.
The 77-year-old veteran politician leaves office at a time of growing criticism of his stewardship of Asia’s third-largest economy, which has slowed dramatically at a time of stubbornly high inflation.
His last full day as finance minister Monday coincided with the announcement of measures to boost the rupee, which has lost nearly a quarter of its value in the past year and hit a record low of 57.32 against the dollar last week.
The steps included raising the limit on foreign investment in government bonds by $5 billion to $20 billion, but the markets were underwhelmed and both the Indian currency and Mumbai’s Sensex index fell on the announcement.
“I know that not every decision I have taken might have been right, but they were taken in the interest of the people,” Mukherjee told reporters before handing in his formal resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Singh has yet to announce who will take over the finance ministry, and there has been widespread speculation that he will keep the portfolio for himself.
India’s once-booming economy is suffering from slowing industrial growth, troublesome fiscal and current account deficits and a stalled reform agenda.
The economy grew just 5.3 percent in January to March, its slowest quarterly expansion in nine years.
A politician whose popularity cuts across party lines, Mukherjee was selected last month as the ruling coalition’s nominee to succeed Patil as president.
“Today, I stand ready to embark on a new journey,” Mukherjee said, adding that he felt “honoured and humbled” by his nomination.
“Standing on the brink of such an honour, I also feel a pinch of sentiment at the thought of leaving behind my life as a political activist spanning over four decades,” he said.
Although the president is India’s titular head of state, real executive power resides with the prime minister and the cabinet.
Indian presidents are selected by an electoral college comprising MPs from both houses of parliament and state legislatures.
The election will be held on July 19.
(National News Agency – RSS – Nepal @ 2012)