New Delhi: Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has hinted at retirement, saying he was unlikely to join a new cabinet, and said Rahul Gandhi, the ruling Congress party's young leader, could become Prime Minister. Mukherjee, a heavyweight in government decision-making, spoke of retirement at a time when the country is trying to balance policies toward double-digit growth, stubbornly high inflation and removing poverty.
"My goodness! What would be my age? I am already 75. There is a limit beyond which you cannot go," Mukherjee told India Today magazine when asked if he would join a Rahul Gandhi cabinet.
"How long do you expect me to stay? Rather, I have overstayed my wicket."
Mukherjee, a political stalwart who first entered parliament four decades ago and has been a member of almost every Congress party ministry since 1973, said Rahul Gandhi was a "popular leader" and had strong potential to become Prime Minister.
"The crowds he gets are amazing," he said about Rahul Gandhi, son of Congress chief Sonia and heir to the Nehru-Gandhi family which has given India three prime ministers.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party were re-elected last year, but his coalition government has been criticised for slow decision-making and there have been calls for younger and fresher politicians into his elderly cabinet.
A master of India's turbulent politics, Mukherjee is considered by many as the sharpest mind in Singh's cabinet with deep knowledge of the changing dynamics of India's strategic and economic policies.
Mukherjee is much more than just the finance minister. He is the Congress party's foremost trouble-shooter, often rising in parliament to defend the government on issues as diverse as foreign policy and inflation.
He commands respect with opposition parties and often engages with them to break political deadlocks.