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Some emotion, some memories at president's farewell banquet
Sunday May 18, 2014 6:13 PM, IANS

It was an emotional event down memory lane. President Pranab Mukherjee at a special farewell banquet recalled his four-decade-long association with Manmohan Singh who stepped down as India's prime minister after a decade.

President with Manmohan

The mood was unusually sombre at the banquet Saturday hosted by the president at Rashtrapati Bhavan for India's 13th prime minister and his council of ministers. The Congress party's crushing defeat in the general election was hanging heavy in the air.

Speaking without a prepared text, President Mukherjee recounted his long association with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He said he was impressed with Manmohan Singh's "depth of knowledge and advice on crucial economic issues, and that his contribution to the economic reforms in the 1990s will always be remembered", according to officials present.

Mukherjee also praised Manmohan Singh's contribution to economic policies as governor of the Reserve Bank of India and as deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission.

The president, who is known for his formidable intellect and knowledge of government policies and laws, said that at a personal level, he would always remember how he had always sought Manmohan Singh's advice and support in the discharge of his responsibilities in the government over the long years.

He hoped Manmohan Singh would continue to devote the remaining years to the service of the nation.

Manmohan Singh who, till a week ago as prime minister, had kept to his routine of meeting the president once a week, also made an emotional speech.

"Forgive me if I become a little emotional... our partnership goes back 40 years," he said.

The two interacted right from the time Manmohan Singh was secretary in the finance ministry and also chief economic advisor. Mukherjee was then finance minister.

He said Mukherjee's support was of great value and that the economic reforms would not have gained momentum without his support.

Manmohan Singh said Mukherjee was a valued colleague in the United Progressive Alliance, as the senior-most member of the council of ministers who shouldered enormous burden in the Group of Ministers (GoMs).

"His contribution has been of lasting value. The president's wisdom, knowledge, and experience are a great national asset. From the core of my heart, I thank you for your contribution to nation building," Manmohan Singh said.

Besides the ministers, the guests included Leader of Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Vice President Hamid Ansari, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Pulok Chatterjee and Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth.

After the speeches, the guests tucked into a mix of Bengali and Punjabi cuisine. There was sorshe bata fish (fish cooked with mustard paste) and potol dolma (a delicacy made of parwal) in the Bengali section.

The Punjabi cuisine had on offer kadhi pakoda, murgh nihari and galauti kebab. There was also anjeer ke koftey and arbi kebabs. The dessert comprised chena payas, a Bengali sweet dish, and mango cheesecake.

The naval band struck up some lilting tunes, a mix of English and Hindi. The final farewell tune was the Bollywood number "Chaltey, chaltey".

Manmohan Singh had earlier in the day met President Mukherjee and handed in his resignation, which was accepted. He was asked to continue till the formation of a new government. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has swept to power, will form the government with its leader Narendra Modi as India's 14th prime minister.

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