Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee effected a mini-Cabinet expansion on Monday, re-inducting George Fernandes as defence minister and Harin Pathak as minister of state.
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who held additional charge of defence, returns the portfolio to Fernandes who was forced to resign in the wake of the corruption scandal unearthed by tehelka.com
Fernandes resuming charge as defence minister will allow Singh to concentrate on external affairs, which has become ever more important with the global war against terrorism taking place in India's neighbourhood.
Pathak, who was minister of state for defence, had put in his papers following allegations of his involvement in the murder of a police constable in his home state Gujarat.
Fernandes's re-induction reflects the prime minister's determination to restore the National Democratic Alliance coordination committee convener to his old job.
Vajpayee's intention was on Sunday articulated by two of his staunchest supporters in the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jaswant Singh and Union Rural Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu. Both said Fernandes was most suited for the defence minister's job.
Vajpayee and his political advisers have evidently calculated that Fernandes's re-induction was worth more than the storm of protests it would trigger not only from the Congress-led opposition but also within the BJP.
The Fernandes-led faction of the Samata Party had virtually threatened that depriving him of the defence minister's job would cause instability in the NDA, possibly leading to the government's collapse.
Party spokesman Shambhu Srivastava had gone so far as to assert that "there will be hell to pay for in the NDA if Fernandes Sahib is not given back the defence portfolio".
Significantly, Fernandes's re-induction is an indication of the continuing power struggle in the Samata Party.
Ever since he relinquished charge of the defence ministry, Fernandes's senior party colleague, Railway Minister Nitish Kumar, has been vying for supremacy in the party.
Much to Fernandes's chagrin, Nitish Kumar asserted in the Lok Sabha that the former could only become defence minister again when the Justice Venkataswami Commission probing the Tehelka scandal had submitted its report.
On Sunday, Samata Party MP Prabhunath Singh, also an aspirant for a ministerial slot, objected again to Fernandes's possible re-induction, underlining that the judicial commission should first complete its work.
George Fernandes back in the Cabinet
The Tehelka Defence Scandal: The complete coverage
Harin Pathak resigns, Bhatt may follows
I am not facing any charge of murder: Pathak
HC extends stay in Harin Pathak's case
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