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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 16:07 GMT
Vajpayee reshuffles for elections
PM Vajpayee, Deputy PM LK  Advani, Gujarat state Chief Minister  Modi
Vajpayee (left) faces federal elections next year
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has carried out a major government reshuffle ahead of state elections this year.

He said the changes were to enable the administration to face new challenges.

This is not a demotion for me. The next 12 months are very crucial for the BJP

Pramod Mahajan
Eight new government ministers have been named in the shake-up.

The most high-profile move involves the departure of telecommunications minister Pramod Mahajan from the cabinet.

BBC correspondent Adam Mynott in Delhi says the aim of the reshuffle is in part to move strong performers into important positions in the administration.

But he says it is also to give the government a fresh look ahead of the elections, which kick off next month.

Mr Vajpayee's BJP, the leading party in the governing coalition, is desperate to capitalise on its win in the Gujarat state elections after a string of defeats in recent months.

Election season

Last year saw wild fluctuations in the fortunes of the BJP.

Victory scenes in Ahmedabad
Can the BJP replicate its success in Gujarat?

It began disastrously as the party crashed to defeat in four states.

The most significant defeat was in Uttar Pradesh, traditionally a political barometer for the whole country. There the BJP lost nearly half of its seats in the state parliament.

Yet the year ended in triumph, with the party winning a landslide victory in Gujarat.

Now Prime Minister Vajpayee has to work out how to win nine more state elections in the coming months to put the BJP in good stead for next year's general elections.

'No demotion'

Wednesday's reshuffle is being seen as a key stop in this process.

In comes Arun Jaitley, one of the architects of the Gujarat win, who moves from general secretary of the BJP back into the cabinet.

He is joined by another senior BJP member, CP Thakur, and six junior ministers. Their portfolios have yet to be announced.

Mr Mahajan, who also held the parliamentary affairs portfolio, is seen as one of the prime minister's inner circle.

He is set to take up a senior role in the BJP, details of which have not yet been revealed.

"This is not a demotion for me," he told reporters. "The next 12 months are very crucial for the BJP."

He also denied his job change had anything to do with controversy over the murder of a female reporter four years ago.

Coal and Mines Minister Uma Bharti has also left the cabinet to take up a party post in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

She is a controversial figure in Indian politics, having been accused of inciting Hindu hardliners who destroyed the Babri mosque near Ayodhya in 1992.

See also:

22 Dec 02 | South Asia
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