10/25/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Christian to be India's new defence minister

A K Anthony from Kerala takes over from Mukherjee, who moves to External Affairs, a post vacant for almost a year.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India's new defence minister is Christian. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reshuffled his cabinet and appointed Arakkaparambil Kurian Antony to replace Pranab Mukherjee, who is the new External Affairs minister.

Mr Antony is a former Union Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Minister (1993-95) and served several times as chief minister of the southern state of Kerala, the last time in 2001-2004 when he was replaced by another Christian, Ommen Chandy.

The South Asian Christian Peace Coalition has expressed its satisfaction with Antony's appointment.

Those who know him describe a man who is simple and humble. He is remembered as the chief minister who walked to market with his family to do his own shopping.

A government reshuffle was six months in the making after External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh was forced to resign almost a year ago. PM Singh was forced to take over the external affairs portfolio himself after Natwar Singh was named by the UN Independent Enquiry Committee (popularly known as Volcker committee) as a beneficiary of illegal payoffs in Iraqi oil scam.

The new External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjeeil, is known as a Sonia Gandhi loyalist. As president of the ruling Congress Party, Ms Gandhi wields considerable influence in Indian politics.

For some observers, yesterday's cabinet reshuffle is a prelude to changes in the Congress Party leadership. (NC)

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