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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
India gets new foreign minister
Pranab Mukherjee

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reshuffled his cabinet and appointed a new foreign minister.

He is the veteran politician, Pranab Mukherjee, who moves from his post of Defence Minister.

The prime minister has been acting as foreign minister since Natwar Singh resigned when a UN inquiry named him in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

Mr Mukherjee, 70-years-old, has held cabinet posts under three different prime ministers.

A senior Congress party politician from the southern state of Kerala, AK Antony, has replaced Mr Mukherjee in the defence ministry.

Mr Singh's coalition government has around 60 senior and junior ministers.

Survival instinct

Mr Mukherjee is a prominent Gandhi family loyalist who did not win a popular election until 2004.

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 who has secured at least half a dozen important ministries in past Congress governments, including finance and external affairs.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says that Mr Mukherjee is taking charge at a critical time for Indian diplomacy.

Next month, India and Pakistan resume peace talks which have been stalled since the July bombings in Mumbai that left nearly 200 people dead.

India has blamed militants based in Pakistan for the attacks, leading to an exchange of angry rhetoric between the two neighbours.

Mr Mukherjee will also have to steer India's growing relations with the United States at a time when a controversial nuclear deal between the two countries is stuck in the US Senate.

He has a reputation as a number-crunching politician with a phenomenal memory and an unerring survival instinct.

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