Special Correspondent

A.K. Antony becomes Defence Minister; Oscar Fernandes gets Labour portfolio

  • Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav, M.H. Ambareesh also sworn in
  • Oscar Fernandes to take over Ministry of Labour

    NEW DELHI:More than 11 months after K. Natwar Singh was made to resign in the wake of the controversial Volcker Report, the Ministry of External Affairs will have a full-time Minister in Pranab Mukherjee.

    This would be his second innings in the Ministry.

    Mr. Mukherjee's place in the Defence Ministry will be taken by the new entrant to the Cabinet, A.K. Antony, who took the oath of office and secrecy at a brief swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan here on Tuesday.

    President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam administered the oath also to two new Ministers of State, Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and M.H. Ambareesh of the Congress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, senior Cabinet Ministers and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were among the dignitaries who attended the function.

    Mr. Yadav had to leave the Union Cabinet a few months ago when a non-bailable warrant of arrest was issued against him in Bihar. He has since sorted out this legal tangle. Mr. Ambareesh, from Karnataka, is widely regarded as one of the few Vokkaliga leaders in the party's column.

    Widely respected

    Mr. Antony is at the centre of the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle, essentially aimed at filling the vacancy caused by Mr. Natwar Singh's departure. A former Kerala Chief Minister and former Union Cabinet Minister, he is widely respected in the Congress for his personal integrity. His induction in the Defence Ministry is being talked about in the Congress quarters as an attempt to send out a message that the United Progressive Alliance Government is sincere in wanting to clean the Augean stables of defence purchases.

    A Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqué said that Oscar Fernandes, Minister without portfolio, would take over the Ministry of Labour as Minister of State with independent charge. The Labour Ministry had been without a full-fledged Minister since the departure of Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) leader K. Chandrashekhar Rao.

    According to senior AICC functionaries involved in the prolonged re-shuffle exercise, Mr. Mukherjee makes at best a "reluctant Foreign Minister."

    It took considerable persuasion and pressure, from both the Prime Minister and the Congress president, before he accepted the assignment.

    It is learnt that Mr. Mukherjee has been assured that he will continue to be treated and respected as the seniormost Minister in the Cabinet, will remain the Leader of the House in the Lok Sabha and be involved with various domestic political and policy engagements, including chairmanship of about a dozen Group of Ministers.

    Additional charge

    In a minor reshuffle of portfolios, Mani Shankar Aiyar gets additional charge of "development of the North-Eastern Region."

    Among the new Ministers of State, Mr. Yadav gets the Ministry of Water Resources and Mr. Ambareesh, Information and Broadcasting. Chandra Sekhar Sahu becomes Minister of State for Rural Development, the post that had been vacant since the exit of A. Narendra of the TRS.

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