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Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Wednesday, 25 October 2006 16:18 UK

India's key ministers

India's new Congress-led government is a mix of ageing Gandhi family loyalists and powerful regional allies. Here are some pen portraits of the key ministers.

PRIME MINISTER
Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh
, 74, is a former finance minister widely regarded as the architect of India's economic reform programme.

He is the first Sikh to hold the top post.

Few doubted his ability as an economist and administrator, but Dr Singh has confounded those observers who questioned whether he had the political toughness and experience to lead a coalition government.

Educated at Cambridge and Oxford, he is a trusted confidante of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi but has traditionally kept a low profile in the party.

INTERIOR MINISTER
Shivraj Patil

Shivraj Patil, 70, is a respected and experienced politician. He held several ministries under the Congress governments of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

A former university lecturer, Mr Patil was also a speaker of India's lower house of parliament where he allowed live broadcasts of proceedings for the first time.

His appointment to the powerful interior ministry came as a surprise, since he had lost his seat in the 2004 elections.

EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER
Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee
, 70, is a prominent Gandhi family loyalist who won his first popular election in 2004.

He served as defence minister until October 2006, when he took up the foreign affairs portfolio.

He has been associated with the Congress party for more than 30 years. But lack of electoral success has never come in the way of Mr Mukherjee securing at least half a dozen important ministries in past Congress governments, including finance and external affairs.

He is a number-crunching politician with a phenomenal memory and an unerring survival instinct.

FINANCE MINISTER
Palanippan Chidambaram

Palaniappan Chidambaram is a suave, articulate politician from the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

His appointment was hailed as encouraging news for business. Mr Chidambaram is well known for his pro-market reforms.

The 58-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer is also remembered for his bold steps to abolish red tape during his earlier tenure as finance minister between 1996 and 1998.

DEFENCE MINISTER
AK Anthony

AK Anthony, 67, is a former chief minister of the southern state of Kerala who has a reputation as the "Mr Clean" of Indian politics.

A former student leader and prominent member of the Congress party Working Committee, he won popularity in Kerala for his decision to impose a ban on arrack liquor.

Married with two children, his clean image has earned him a reputation as one of the most respected politicians in India.

Mr Anthony is a member of the upper house of the Indian parliament, the Rajya Sabha.

RAILWAY MINISTER
Laloo Prasad Yadav

Laloo Prasad Yadav is one of the country's most colourful and controversial politicians.

He heads the regional RJD party in Bihar, reputedly India's most lawless state. Through Mr Yadav and then his wife, the RJD ruled Bihar for years until it lost elections in 2005.

Mr Yadav is known for his quirky style, making the most of his humble origins and mass appeal, but he is also accused of corruption by his opponents.

Analysts found his appointment a bit of an irony, as ticketless railway travel is a way of life in Bihar.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE MINISTER
Sharad Pawar

Sharad Pawar is a powerful regional politician from Maharashtra state.

He broke away from the Congress party a few years ago, but agreed to ally with it during the 2004 elections - despite his opposition to Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins.

A former federal defence minister, Mr Pawar has a reputation for being an efficient administrator.

His food and agriculture portfolio is one of the key policy areas for the government.

EDUCATION MINISTER

Arjun Singh, 74, is a veteran Congress leader and a diehard Gandhi family loyalist.

He joined the party in 1960, and has been a state governor and federal minister in Congress governments in the past.

A tough career politician, Mr Singh is considered to be part of Sonia Gandhi's inner circle.




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