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Friday, May 30, 2003

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Dragging the feet over reshuffling

D. Murali

LONG, long ago, one could mug up a list of ministers and portfolios, and the knowledge remained current for donkey's years. So, when the quizmaster shot out a question such as "Name the food minister", "Who heads the defence portfolio" or "Who is the Finance Minister?" the participant would answer with Chavan, Jagjivan Ram, Pant and so forth, and there was every likelihood of getting a mark. Not so now, because changes seem to happen so fast in the council of ministers that it is difficult to cope with who is doing what. And there are questions that remain unanswered:

Is there any difference between shuffle and reshuffle?

To shuffle is to walk slowly without picking up the feet, dragging and making noise, moving in an awkward clumsy way, as aimless people do; to move things around from one place to another, as many do with house furniture; to mix things together carelessly, as TV cooks do; to rearrange playing cards randomly so the order is not known; or to be deliberately evasive or shifty in addressing an issue, as most politicians are.

As a word, its origin is in German schuffeln, which is to walk with dragging feet. To reshuffle has meaning in two spheres that must be sharing some strange origin: it means shuffle cards again, or to redistribute jobs for ministers. Coming to the question, is there any difference, yes. First time you do, it is shuffle. You do it again and again, it is reshuffle.

If I don't know the list of ministers, am I poor in GK?

Let me give out a secret about the quizzers. Since changes seem to happen too fast — such as a minister saying in the morning that he would not quit, and then by night, there is a flash that he has resigned — those conducting quiz programmes avoid the sort of questions their predecessors used to ask decades ago. So, your GK or the lack of it will not come out in the open.

Just before a reshuffle, there are some resignations. Why?

While reshuffle is a suspense for the common man, one of the behind-the-screen activities is to vet the list and sound the people. "Hey, you're not in the new list. What are you going to do?"

The sensible option is to send in a resignation, which would be accepted forthwith. In some cases, a minister's resignation may be due to corruption charges. But on many occasions, the real reason may not come out, because it could be too fickle to talk about.

Can we automate the process of reshuffling?

What you are asking for is something like a refresh button in the browser, or recalc switch in spreadsheets. If Naidu became the helmsman, he might think of tapping his laptop for getting some expert system to prepare new lists, reallocated portfolios and, most importantly, list of ministers to be dropped which would be a simple math formula, viz., old minus new.

The only difficulty in such artificial intelligence would be to factor in all those considerations that go into a reshuffling exercise — such as caste, region, loyalty, and so forth.

Are the results as random as in the case of cards?

When you shuffle cards properly, and pick up the top card, it is bound to be random, explain mathematicians. But the second card would not be random, and there is a math theory that explains why. So it is necessary to reshuffle and then pick the top one.

Any limit to the number of times the PM can reshuffle?

They say it is like the Lahore bus that can start and stop many times.

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