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Singh Expands Cabinet as India’s Congress Gears Up for Poll

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inducted eight new ministers in his cabinet in what may be his last reshuffle ahead of elections due in less than a year.

Four cabinet and four junior ministers were sworn in today by President Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony in New Delhi. Mallikarjun Kharge became the new railway minister, while Oscar Fernandes was put in charge of the highways ministry, the government said today in a statement. Sis Ram Ola became the new labor minister, Girija Vyas was assigned to head the housing ministry and K.S. Rao the textiles ministry.

With India scheduled to vote for a new government before the end of May next year, political tensions are rising. While Singh is bidding to force through ballot-winning legislation, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party papered over a split among its top leadership last week triggered by the promotion of Gujarat’s Narendra Modi. The BJP’s biggest ally quit the opposition alliance yesterday, citing its aversion to Modi.

The ruling Congress party yesterday handed positions to a raft of young politicians and appointed senior members to run its affairs in key states. The Congress leadership, damaged by a series of corruption scandals since 2010 and slumping economic growth, is seeking to energize a party that trailed rivals in opinion polls last month.

Probes, Resignations

Pawan Kumar Bansal resigned as railways minister in May after the Central Bureau of Investigation arrested a member of his family on charges he accepted money to help secure an official post in the rail department. Ashwani Kumar quit as law minister after the CBI told India’s top court that he was among officials who vetted a probe report on an award of coal mines award and altered its contents. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Two other ministers -- C.P. Joshi and Ajay Maken --resigned as ministers of highways and housing respectively at the weekend to take up key posts in the Congress party apparatus.

About 67 percent of those polled last month for CNN-IBN said Singh’s government has lost its credibility in the face of graft scandals and rising prices. Only 31 percent said the Congress party-led coalition represented the best option for running India. A C-voter survey for the Times Now TV channel found in April that a drop in support for Congress would slash its strength in parliament after an election.

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