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Pranab takes charge of Finance Ministry
Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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January 30, 2009 00:18 IST
The newly appointed Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee took charge of his new office in north block, returning to it after a gap of 24 years. The Finance Ministry office, which has been sealed off to outsiders and particularly prying journalists with the vote-on-account preparations in full swing, was on Thursday opened up at 4 p.m. when the media was invited in to cover the taking over ceremony.

Mukherjee said his first priority would be to prepare the budget speech which is expected to be a full-fledged budget document minus the taxation proposals.

It would focus on the performance of the United Progressive Alliance government in the last five years in maintaining a good growth rate despite global recessionary pressures, it would detail the promises which have been kept and implemented by the government and would give an assurance of completing the tasks which remain incomplete.

Mukherjee would present the vote-on-account on February 16 and sources said that in all probability the Prime Minister would not be present on the occasion as he has been advised not to hasten his return to the work field.

There is, however, a proposal that the Prime Minister could attend the concluding ceremony of the Lok Sabha on February 26, which would be the final goodbye of the house before the MPs head for elections.

That would be exactly a month after the Prime Minister's coronary bypass operation and considering the galloping progress he has made, it is felt in the Prime Minister's Office that he should be able to handle the final session of the 14th Lok Sabha.

The same theme of detailing the Congress achievements would be presented by Pranab Mukherjee [Images] in the Congress manifesto which was discussed in the Congress Working Committee meeting , and presently being prepared by a committee headed by Mukherjee.

The manifesto which is currently running into a 100 pages in the draft stage, but would be pruned by a good 30-40 pages, focussing on the achievements of the UPA government, the issue of internal security and communal harmony.

A senior member of the manifesto committee said the message from the manifesto would be: "Look at what we have done and if you vote us to power, we will continue on the same path".

This includes the party's performance in rural development, education, its handling of the Mumbai [Images] terror act, law and order, the nuclear deal and various other schemes and prograames of the government with special emphasis on governance, development and its record on maintaining communal harmony.

On February 8 when the congress kickstarts its election campaign with a huge meeting of its District Congress Committee and Block Congress Committee level workers and leaders sourced from all around the country at the Ramlila Grounds, it would unveil its Sankalp 2009-- a pledge to be taken by everyone to work for the victory and strength of the party and the country.

"Congress ko jitana hai" would be the refrain of the pledge and while the wording of the resolve are still being worked out, it is likely to be read out by Sonia Gandhi [Images] along with all the congress workers.

The Congress president would inaugurate the meeting which is expected to give a boost to the party's campaign as it goes into overdrive to project its achievements and present itself as a party with a definite development agenda.

The party's publicity committee has already set the ball rolling by trying to beat the code of conduct restrictions placed by the Election Commission. It has asked that in each assembly constituency 3 hoardings of the party should be put up and this includes photographs of Sonia Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] and Rahul Gandhi [Images], 50,000 buntings should be put up and 10,000 flags should be distributed and strategically placed.

This would be done before the notification so that the expenses incurred on this would not be included in the candidates' expenses for the elections.

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