NATIONAL

Cabinet reshuffle an anti-climax: Cong.

NEW DELHI JULY 3. Working on the premise that the "internal problems of the NDA had become explosive issues in the country'', the Congress today saw it fit to once again comment on Monday's Cabinet reshuffle, dubbing it as an "anti-climax''.

Briefing mediapersons here, the party spokesman, S. Jaipal Reddy, said: "Far from giving a face-lift to the Cabinet, the reshuffle has only given new wrinkles and exposed the chinks in the armour of both the BJP and the NDA.''

Though the party had reacted to the reshuffle two hours ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, this was the first official reaction following the redistribution of portfolios.

The entire exercise, according to Mr. Reddy, was a telling comment on the state of affairs within the NDA, and exposed "the BJP's claims about its internal discipline''.

In particular, the Congress picked on five instances to show the NDA/BJP in poor light. If, according to the party, "the entry of Jana Krishnamurthy has been marked by unseemly bargaining over the portfolio, the ejection of C.P. Thakur has led to an explosion in Bihar''.

On Keshubhai Patel's refusal to join the Cabinet, Mr. Reddy said: "It has cast a shadow on the fate of the BJP in Gujarat''. And, the clash between Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee, in the opinion of the Congress, "is leading to an inter-State dispute''.

While heaping ridicule on the ruling coalition for the way it had handled the reshuffle, the Congress was cautious in revealing its hand on the Vice-Presidential candidate. Maintaining that the party had an open mind on the issue, Mr. Reddy said it favoured a consensus and was prepared to cooperate with the Government, provided the latter had the same attitude. Should the Government not work towards a consensus, the Congress, he said, would be left with no other option but to contest.

Refusing to comment on specific candidates — be it a second term for the Vice-President, Krishan Kant, or the former Rajasthan Chief Minister, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat — the spokesman said: "We do not want to say anything that could preclude or hamper the process of consensus-building.'' All that he would say was that the candidate should be someone with "appeal in the wider political spectrum''.

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