NEW DELHI, Jan 29 (AFP): Indian Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh appointed 21 new members to his cabinet Sunday, shuffled the portfolios of some others but kept the foreign ministry portfolio for himself, reports said.
Singh added 21 new ministers and promoted two junior ministers to cabinet rank, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said.
The move was aimed at filling vacant cabinet positions and bolstering regional support ahead of elections in some states this year, commentators said.
Singh did not change the responsibilities of his key colleagues-Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
He also retained the foreign affairs portfolio, vacant since the resignation of Natwar Singh over allegations of corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal in November.
But Singh brought in his ruling Congress party spokesman Anand Sharma as junior minister for foreign affairs replacing Rao Inderjit Singh who was moved to the defence ministry.
Sharma's appointment comes ahead of several key foreign visits-by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, French President Jacques Chirac and US President George W. Bush.
India hopes to finalise a landmark deal aimed at giving New Delhi access to previously forbidden civilian nuclear technology during Bush's visit in March.
The only major change in the cabinet portfolios was in the oil ministry with minister Mani Shankar Aiyar being replaced by Murli Deora, a high-profile Congress leader from the industrialised western state of Maharashtra, PTI said.
Aiyar had been instrumental in concluding a deal between energy-hungry China and India to jointly secure global fuel assets to feed their booming economies.
But his dogged support for a controversial multi-billion dollar transactional gas pipeline from Iran which could stand in the way of a successful conclusion of the Indo-US nuclear deal could have cost him his job, some commentators said.