External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been given the additional charge of the finance ministry till such time as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recovers from the heart bypass surgery he is to undergo in New Delhi on Saturday.
According to an official communiqué, President Pratibha Patil directed the 73-year-old Mukherjee to hold the additional charge from Jan 24.
Mukherjee, who is also set to preside over Cabinet meetings, is now expected to present the vote on account Feb 16, when Parliament's nod will be sought to fund government expenditure, including payment of salaries, till the next national budget.
The finance portfolio is presently with the prime minister himself after P Chidambaram was shifted to the home ministry in the wake of a minor reshuffle of the Cabinet following the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks.
Manmohan Singh is scheduled to undergo a heart bypass surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Saturday. Post-surgery recovery is expected to keep him out of work for up to four weeks, official sources said on Friday.
The finance portfolio, though, is not new to Mukherjee. He presided over the ministry as a cabinet minister from January 1982 to December 1984 under then prime minister Indira Gandhi and briefly under her successor Rajiv Gandhi.
The journalist-turned-politician, who has a Master's degree each in history and political science, apart from a Bachellor's degree in law, held additional charge of the commerce ministry from September to December 1984.
Over the past month, Mukherjee was addressing a host of business seminars and meetings, besides keeping the media busy with his remarks on foreign policy, notably on Pakistan in the aftermath of the Nov 26 Mumbai attacks.
He has also chaired more than 50 high-powered panels, called the Empowered Group of Ministers set up by Manmohan Singh, many on highly technical economic matters like gas pricing, frequency spectrum and broadband policy.
He was not only the keynote speaker at the high-profile Partnership Summit of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), but will be the chief guest at the annual meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).
Mukherjee also had a stint at North Block, the office of finance ministry, as a minister of state from October 1974 to December 1975 and as minister for revenue and banking with independent charge from December 1975 to March 1977.
He was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission from June 1991 to May 1996 and was the cabinet minister for Commerce, Steel and Mines for two years starting January 1980.