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Still caught in foreign Net

Washington, Oct. 26: Forty-eight hours after Pranab Mukherjee was made external affairs minister, the Prime Minister’s Office is reluctant to give up direct charge of foreign policy.

So it would seem to the world from clicking the PMO’s website, which continues to list Manmohan Singh as India’s external affairs minister.

It was well known before Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle that Mukherjee was reluctant to move to the foreign ministry. Look at the defence ministry’s website and it has become a truism that Mukherjee is clinging on to his defence portfolio.

There is no mention anywhere on the defence ministry’s website that A.K. Antony is the country’s new defence minister. Mukherjee remains firmly in place there. The ministry of labour, on the other hand, has announced that its new minister, Oscar Fernandes, took charge yesterday.

In Washington, where a key official delegation to New Delhi led by the under-secretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, is being planned for the second week of November, Bush administration officials have been scouring Indian government websites for developments related to the UPA’s new council of ministers.

It does not help them that the labour ministry has been prompt: the delegation, regrettably, will have little interaction with Fernandes.

One Bush administration official even contacted an Indian journalist here to check if Indian newspapers had published an official, updated list after Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle.

The Indian embassy in Washington has promptly put up the new cabinet list at its website, but foreign governments are often looking for more than just a list, such as a profile of new defence minister Antony, about whom little is known abroad.

The ministry of external affairs has posted a profile of Mukherjee, its new minister, but the MEA’s home page still asserts that “Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is looking after the ministry of external affairs” in its sub-section on “MEA organisation”.

In 2002, when Jaswant Singh was replaced by Yashwant Sinha, it took more than two weeks and a report in this newspaper for MEA to announce on its website that a new minister was in charge.

An extensive search of Indian government websites revealed that the only site where a full, updated list of the cabinet is available was with the Press Information Bureau.

Mercifully, the website of Rashtrapati Bhavan simply links its cabinet page to the PIB, thereby avoiding the embarrassment of having an outdated list at the very place where the new ministers were sworn in.

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