India names new finance, power ministers

Above: Home Minister P. Chidambaram

NEW DELHI - Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was switched to the finance portfolio on Tuesday in a minor reshuffle that also saw the power minister promoted as a massive electricity failure struck the country.

The president's office announced that Chidambaram would begin his third stint as the head of the finance ministry, where he will be charged with re-firing India's spluttering economy.

He will be replaced at the home ministry by Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who spent Tuesday tackling an unprecedented and embarrassing electricity outage that saw supplies fail in half the country, affecting more than 600 million people.

"There has been a small reallocation of portfolios," a senior official in the premier's office, Sharat Chandra, told AFP.

There was no place in the cabinet for political pin-up Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who had recently indicated he was ready to play a bigger role in politics.

The finance portfolio is currently being handled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took over from former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee when he resigned last month to run for election to become India's president.

Chidambaram was praised by economists for his pro-business budgets during his previous stints as finance minister, although he faced brickbats from left-wing parties for his pursuit of foreign investment.

Seen as a safe pair of hands by the ruling Congress party leadership, the former lawyer was asked to take over the home ministry after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people and left India reeling.

Shinde, the son of a cobbler from the low-caste community, is a former police inspector from the western state of Maharashtra and a loyalist to the Gandhi family, which dominates the ruling Congress party.

His power portfolio will be added to the responsibilities of M. Veerappa Moily, the current minister of corporate affairs, who will have to tackle an electricity crisis that has embarrassed the government.

Early on Monday, the northern grid collapsed shortly after 2:00 am in the worst blackout in a decade. On Tuesday, this network and two others in eastern India also failed.

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