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Newsmaker: Pranab Mukherjee

He is widely regarded as the most powerful minister in Manmohan Singh's Cabinet and he is Congress President Sonia Gandhi's chief trouble- shooter.

By Manu Kaushik        Print Edition: Sept 23, 2007

He is widely regarded as the most powerful minister in Manmohan Singh's Cabinet and he is Congress President Sonia Gandhi's chief trouble-shooter.

No wonder Gandhi and Singh turned to Pranab Mukherjee, 71, who also holds a day job as the country's Foreign Minister, to diffuse the crisis in UPA-Left ties over the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The Congress' man for all seasons has had a roller-coaster career. He shot to fame in 1982 when Indira Gandhi appointed him Finance Minister and effective #2 in her Cabinet.

Pranab Mukherjee
Mukherjee: Chief troubleshooter
That high was followed by a spell in the wilderness, when Rajiv Gandhi expelled him from the Congress, for reportedly harbouring Prime Ministerial ambitions-something he has always denied. Returning to the party during the P.V. Narasimha Rao years, he soon found himself back in the familiar role of Prime Ministerial confidante.

It is a tribute to his political acumen that he alone, from Rao's inner circle, has retained his authority in the corridors of Delhi's power circuit.

But he has had his share of other controversies, too. He was seen to be particularly close to the late Dhirubhai Ambani, but to his credit, no charge of misdemeanour was ever proved. His rivals called him a drawing room politician as he had never won a popular election in his life. He answered his critics in 2004 by winning the LS elections from Jangipur in West Bengal.

Earlier this year, he missed out the chance of becoming the President of India because Sonia Gandhi reportedly felt that he was too important a minister to spare. That decision has proved to be a stroke of genius. Without Mukherjee's political skills, this government may not have survived the convulsions it has faced over the last month.

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