Reshuffle will ready Congress for 2014

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Sunday's Cabinet changes are only one part of the wider political exercise to prepare the Congress party for the next general elec tion. All new ministers or those affected by the reshuffling of the deck, except Tariq Anwar (NCP), are from the Congress. The forthcoming changes in the party's organisational set-up, expected any time, will constitute the other leg of the pre-election re-programming. In the event, it is futile to judge the new ministers, or the portfolios that have been allotted, only in terms of youth and experience that the media frequently employ.

After the Trinamul Congress left the UPA, the DMK -whatever that party's calculations -did the Congress a favour by not seeking to fill vacancies in its original quota in the Union Council of Ministers, giving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress leadership a free hand in deciding the new look of the Council of Ministers. There is also perhaps a message here -that the DMK is not committing at this stage to be a part of the next UPA. No doubt the DMK leadership is guided by the views political circumstances in Tamil Nadu as it this, as also its perception of the current image of the UPA-2 government.

But this should also suit the Congress which, in the main, is likely to be looking at the scenario after the Lok Sabha poll with some interest. The nature of the political chess board on the eve of the general election will be influenced to a considerable degree by state election results in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat later this year and a clutch of key Assembly polls that are due in 2013. For now, the NCP may be deemed to be the Congress' only steady UPA ally although the two parties keep sparring in Maharashtra.

The Cabinet changes make it clear that the organisational needs of the Congress in states where Assembly elections are to be held have been kept firmly in view. Andhra Pradesh has been accorded high priority, given the party's very high stakes there in the next parliamentary election. The elevation of M.M. Pallam Raju and induction of K. Chiranjeevi amply shows this. The departure of S.M. Krishna from the Cabinet could be aimed at bolstering the Congress in respect of the vital Vokkaliga vote in Karnataka. Moving Salman Khurshid to external affairs is a well-considered choice, given his known abilities and experience. But alongside the elevation of K. Rahman Khan from Karnataka, it is also a signal to the minorities. West Bengal has got several berths after Mamata Banerjee went her way. The forthcoming changes in the Congress' organisation will show what importance Rahul Gandhi's trusted lieutenants have been accorded.

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