Washington: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday dismissed US corporate sector's perception of a power vacuum in New Delhi, saying a "strong" and "powerful" Prime Minister was at the helm of affairs and the appetite for reform was strong.
At the end of his Washington trip, the Finance Minister was responding to a specific question at a press conference related to a letter written recently by the US corporate sector to the White House noting that there is a power vacuum in the Centre, and decision making has become slow.
"How can I comment on perception of some organisation or institution? I can only state the fact that there is no vacuum in leadership of the union government. There is a very powerful, strong and acceptable Prime Minister," Mukherjee said.
In the US to attend the annual spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the Finance Minister also asserted that there was appetite for reforms in the Indian electorate.
"How to gauge the appetite of the electorate? So far the electoral performance is concerned it is mixed and reform was never a major agenda in the provincial Assembly elections. So how do you gauge it? This can be gauged only in the national elections," he said.
"In national elections, it has been amply demonstrated. Congress party had 147 Lok Sabha seats in 2004. It increased to 2007 and the Congress Party is one of the pioneers in introducing the reform measures.
"So therefore from that point of view you can say, Yes, there is an appetite for reform among Indian electorate," Mukherjee said.
The Finance Minister said reform was a continuing process and was not something that "you can stop and go" as one set of reform demands another set of policy reform in executive decisions.
"First demand was that you open the economy to the outside investment. Do not run the closed economy... Investment foreign policy change, foreign trade policy change which was introduced in 1990s and thereafter it had been expanded.
"Recently we had announced the new manufacturing policy. In my budget proposals, I had announced series of measures to liberalise the external commercial borrowing. We have also introduced the mechanism through which we can attract investment from abroad for long term fund requirement in the infrastructure sectors," he pointed out.
Mukherjee said the government was committed to pursure the reform agenda and he had specifically mentioned the insurance amendment bill, pension fund regulatory amendment bill and banking amendment as a priority in his budget speech.
"On the legislative front there are couple of issues, on which we have to do the legislations. Bill was introduced in the parliament, thereafter it went to the relevant standing committees. The Parliamentary standing committee made its recommendations. Those are available to the government," he said.
"... And in my budget speech, I have indicated that I will try to get the approval of the parliament in this session.. I mean this session which is going on currently... three bills insurance amendment bill, pension fund regulatory amendment bill and banking amendment, which have received recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, after taking a view on it by the Cabinet, it would be passed," the finance minister said.
"We will try to get it passed in this session and if time is not there then in the next session," Mukherjee said.
"Therefore you can't just say that this is the reform, by what time it would be completing. It is a continuing process. It's an ongoing process," he said.