The continuing speculation that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is the frontrunner in the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan seeped into the atmosphere of Parliament, as it eagerly awaited his reply to the debate on the Finance Bill, 2012, in both Houses. Not for a long time has a finance minister's reply been so keenly watched. More than one observer says that the senior politician excelled himself in his reply, holding the House enthralled and even his critics charmed with his wit, sense of history and pragmatism; the Finance Bill was passed without a demur.
Afterwards, politicians cutting across party lines made a beeline for the treasury benches to congratulate him. As one senior leader put it, "It seemed more like a farewell speech, possibly the last Budget he steered, before he makes the much-talked about move into Rashtrapati Bhavan, and everyone present wanted to shake his hand." All of which added to the embarrassment of the Congress party, which continues to keep its cards close to its chest - nobody in the party apparatus had any straight answers when questioned if Mukherjee was indeed the favourite for the president's post.