Monday, March 19, 2001,
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Jaswant gets Defence too
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 18
The External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, was today given additional charge of the Ministry of Defence which fell vacant following the resignation of Mr George Fernandes in the aftermath of the expose by tehelka.com alleging corruption in high places especially in defence deals.

A communique issued by Rashtrapati Bhavan said the President of India, Mr K.R. Narayanan, as advised by the Prime Minister, had directed that Mr Jaswant Singh would hold the additional charge of the Defence Ministry.

The government, however, did not seem to be in a hurry to fill the vacancy created by Ms Mamata Banerjee and her party colleague and Minister of State for External Affairs Ajit Panja following the withdrawal of support by the Trinamool Congress to the NDA. There was, as yet, no word about who would take charge of the Railway Ministry and as the Minister of State for External Affairs.

Ms Banerjee decided to withdraw support as the government overlooked her demand seeking the resignation of Mr Fernandes as Defence Minister.

Incidentally, unlike the Railway Ministry, which has two junior ministers, the Ministry of Defence is without any Minister of State following the resignation of Mr Harin Pathak, who quit last year after being charged in a criminal case.

Mr Fernandes quit as Defence Minister on March 15, two days after the expose by the website. His colleagues in the Samata Party, Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr V. Srinivasa Prasad had also put in their papers but they had not been accepted by the Prime Minister.

The handing over of Defence portfolio to Mr Jaswant Singh seemed to be a temporary arrangement as Mr Fernandes had been assured of a return once he was cleared by the judicial inquiry into the Tehelka expose.

Mr Jaswant Singh, a former Armoured Corps officer, however, takes charge of the ministry at a crucial juncture with not only allegations of corruption dogging it but with the Army also holding a Court of Inquiry which for the first time involves such a large number of high ranking officers. The Court of Inquiry is being held against three Major-Gens, a Brigadier and two Colonels. Commissioned in the Central India Horse in 1957, Mr Jaswant Singh resigned in 1966 to take to politics. Defence and security matters have been the subjects on which he has written extensively. Meanwhile, stalemate continues on the resignation of three Samata representatives in the Vajpayee government Agriculture Minister Nitish Kumar, Minister of State for Railways Digvijay Singh and Minister of State for Consumer Affairs V. Srinivasa Prasad.
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