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Pranab will stand in for Manmohan
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, January 23
Hours before he left his official Race Course residence for hospital this afternoon to undergo a heart bypass surgery tomorrow, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made all the necessary arrangements needed to be put in place during his absence which included the vital decision to hand over additional charge of the Finance Ministry to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Mukherjee will also head the government and preside over all Cabinet meetings during Manmohan Singh’s absence that could stretch to three weeks or even more.

A formal announcement was made through a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique today saying Mukherjee will hold additional charge until the recovery of the Prime Minister.

Since Manmohan Singh will not be taking part in the Republic Day celebrations, necessary protocol changes have been made for all the related events. Vice-President Hamid Ansari will be conducting some of the ceremonial duties of the Prime Minister that include handing out the bravery awards to children and receiving the President when she arrives for the parade. Defence Minister AK Antony is likely to place a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti.

Pranab Mukherjee, who is the second most senior leader in the Congress, will now have his plate full as he already heads over 20 group of ministers and is also the party’s main political troubleshooter. Yesterday, he was given additional responsibility to head the West Bengal party unit. He will present the interim budget in Lok Sabha in next month’s Parliament session and also reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President.

The PM personally communicated his decision to Pranab when the latter called on him at his residence before he left for the hospital. Congress president Sonia Gandhi also visited the PM to wish him a speedy recovery.

Although Mukherjee has been presiding over Cabinet meetings whenever Manmohan Singh went abroad, today’s development has added further lustre to his stature with important implications for the future.

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