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Indian PM Rearranges Cabinet, Party Leadership - 2002-07-01

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has reshuffled his cabinet and revamped his party's leadership in an effort to revive the political fortunes of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya-Janata party.

Monday's reorganization of the BJP-led government was the biggest since it came to power two and a-half years ago. It saw the induction of 13 new ministers, including four of cabinet rank. Several ministers swapped portfolios; some younger ministers resigned to move to party posts.

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh has traded jobs with Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. Mr. Singh has had a successful stint as foreign minister, but Finance Minister Sinha had been under attack by party leaders for failing to win voter support for the government's economic reform program.

The changes in the government come two days after the powerful home minister, Lal Krishna Advani, was appointed deputy prime minister. He continues to hold charge of the home ministry.

Mr. Advani is widely regarded as a Hindu hard-liner, known for promoting a right-wing, pro-Hindu agenda. Many see this as a signal that the party is returning to its hard-line policies.

Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan calls this the most significant change in the government. "The latter has seen his appointment as deputy prime minister, as possibly an anointing for future succession to the prime ministership even though this is denied," he said.

The shake-up of the government was accompanied by an overhaul of the BJP's leadership, primarily aimed at replacing older party leaders with younger and more dynamic ones. Venkaiah Naidu, 53, has taken charge of the party after resigning from his post as rural development minister. Former law minister, Arun Jaitley, also takes over a key party post. "Eulogizing the new BJP leader, Prime Minister Vajpayee said the objective of the changes is to strengthen the party and improve the government's functioning," he said.

The move to send charismatic leaders to the party is an effort to revive flagging support for the BJP, which lost a string of key state elections earlier this year. As a result, its support base has shrunk; the party now only rules four of the country's 29 states.

The new party leader, Mr. Naidu, told Indian television he wants to revive the BJP's fortunes. "The party had certain setbacks," he said. "We are doing introspection; we are analyzing the reasons, and we will be chalking out a course of action for further revitalizing the party and gearing up the party machinery for meeting the next round of challenge."

BJP leaders hope the sweeping changes will rejuvenate the party and the government as it looks ahead to elections in 10 states over the next year, and general elections in 2004.