New Delhi, Novermber, 29 : After covering the Reddy flank by replacing chief minister K Rosaiah with a member of the community, Congress is set to install a dalit as deputy CM as it moves ahead with its plan to counter the threat from the rebellious Jaganmohan Reddy.
The new Andhra cabinet under Kiran Kumar Reddy will be sworn in on Wednesday and a dalit from Telangana will be the deputy CM. Damodar Raja Narasimha is said to be the frontrunner.
After an year of lull during which it tried to normalise the post-YSR tremors in the state unit caused by Telangana agitation and Jagan's ambition with a neutral Rosaiah, Congress is moving to close openings for the Kadapa MP to exploit.
Vivekananda Reddy, Jagan's uncle, met party chief Sonia Gandhi on Sunday for discussions after expressing his wish for a ministerial berth. If Vivekananda is made minister, it will send a message to the electorate that Congress is not against the YSR family.
With Kiran Reddy in the saddle, it will undercut any attempt by Jagan to gain sympathy among his influential and numerically strong community in the name of his family.
A sudden, multi-pronged activity in Congress to put its Andhra unit in order after an year of drift reflects the state's importance in the national matrix. Congress won 29 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2004 to pip BJP as the single-largest party. It flourished again with a stupendous haul of 33 seats in 2009 as Congress rode to power on the back of UPA's performance in Tamil Nadu, UP, West Bengal and Rajasthan.
However, there are early concerns in Congress ranks about the 2014 contest. With the future in Tamil Nadu and UP uncertain and the hammering in Bihar assembly polls raising fears, Congress is anxious that Andhra does not slip out of its grip.
The installation of a young Reddy, also known as a YSR loyalist, gives a peep into Congress's strategy to neutralise the Jagan challenge. Its eagerness is also heightened by estimates that handling of Telangana situation after the Srikrishna report in the new year will determine if the party can give a government which can attract votes. It has been a free fall in the last year during which Congress has been saved by arch-rival TDP's failure to exploit the situation.
The new ministry, Congress hopes, will rejuvenate the party and erase the memories of the last year.
Damodar Raja Narasimha and Geetha Reddy are in the running for the post of deputy CM with the former as favourite. The choice of a dalit, 23% of the state's population, is part of the strategy to tighten the party's grip over the key social groups who are part of Congress base but may be on the radar of Jagan when he breaks free.
The choice of Telangana for Kiran Reddy's No.2 is to strike a regional balance.
Narasimha belongs to `Madiga' sub-group of SCs who are aligned with TDP. While Malas, to which Geetha Reddy belongs, back Congress, Narasimha's elevation may wean away a chunk of `Madigas' from the rival votebase.