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Indian Prime Minister Names New Cabinet - 2004-05-24


India's new prime minister has named his cabinet, appointing one of the nation's top economists to the post of finance minister and a veteran diplomat to serve as foreign-affairs minister.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has given the key portfolios of Finance, Defense, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs to veteran leaders of his Congress Party, all of whom have held senior posts in previous governments.

That decision may be an attempt to allay the fears of many Indians, who were startled by the Congress Party's surprise win in the recent parliamentary elections, and concerned that a new government might mean too many changes.

"It is a message of reassurance to say that we are not trying to do something very bold and daring," said Mahesh Rangarajan, an independent political analyst. "We have got a tested, tried team at the helm. So it is a new bottle, but the wine is old."

Educated at Harvard University in the United States, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram already served in that post between 1996 and 1998. During that time, he carried through the economic liberalization measures launched by his predecessor, Mr. Singh, now the prime minister. Those measures are widely considered to be the foundation of India's recent economic growth.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr. Chidambaram said he would fulfill the Congress Party's campaign pledge to help more Indians realize the benefits of the economic boom.

"It will be my endeavor to promote investment, which I believe is the key to growth, to jobs, and to incomes," said Mr. Chidambaram.

Another familiar name in government circles is Natwar Singh, the new foreign minister and a veteran diplomat who has served in Britain, China, Pakistan, and the United Nations. The 73-year-old has been critical of other Indian administrations, which he says have failed to stand up to the United States.

Home Minister Sivraj Patil and Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee have also held key cabinet portfolios in the past. A veteran of both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Mr. Mukherjee was among those short-listed last week as a potential prime minister after the Congress Party win.

Prime Minister Singh named the cabinet late Sunday, a day after his inauguration as prime minister and after a week of political drama. The Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi, who was born in Italy, declined the premiership. Her opponents said a foreign-born person should not lead the country. In all, 68 cabinet and state ministers were appointed.

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