India's foreign minister makes way 'for younger people'

The gaffe-prone SM Krishna, whose political career stretches back nearly half a century, said he would resign ahead of a cabinet reshuffle.

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NEW DELHI // India's veteran foreign minister SM Krishna announced his resignation yesterday in a move that clears the way for a long-awaited reshuffle of Manmohan Singh's beleaguered government.

The reshuffle is aimed at refurbishing the image of Mr Singh's government tainted by a series of bribery scandals involving several ministers ahead of parliamentary elections due in 2014.

The gaffe-prone Mr Krishna, whose political career stretches back nearly half a century, said he wanted to make way for a younger generation while a senior member of the main ruling Congress party said he would be playing a leading role in an upcoming election campaign in his traditional fiefdom of Karnataka.

"I am a loyal party worker," the 80-year-old Mr Krishna said in brief comments on the NDTV news channel.

"I will continue to work for the Congress party. I am making way for younger people."

The resignation takes effect immediately and a senior official in the prime minister's office said Mr Krishna has cancelled a scheduled visit to Laos, where he was to have accompanied the premier, Mr Singh, who is also aged 80.

Mr Krishna was appointed foreign minister in 2009 after Mr Singh was re-elected prime minister. It was his first position in cabinet after having held a host of senior positions in the state government of Karnataka since the 1960s. He served as chief minister of the southern state from 1999 to 2004.

Polls in Karnataka are due to be held in May next year and the battle for control of one of India's largest states is expected to be fierce.

"He wants to go back to his home state and work for the Congress party," said a senior Congress leader in New Delhi.

"He has a stronghold in state politics and the Congress can win the election if he works for the party in the state."

Mr Krishna hit the headlines in 2010 when he read out parts of the Portuguese foreign minister's speech at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York.

His impact on foreign policy was seen by analysts as being marginal, with Mr Singh and his senior advisers taking the lead on crucial issues such as relations with Pakistan.

Widespread reports have said that Mr Singh is on the verge of shuffling his ministerial team with Rahul Gandhi, son of the slain prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, widely tipped to be given a seat in cabinet.

Mr Singh's coalition government lost its parliamentary majority last month after a key ally, the Trinamool Congress, quit over a series of economic reforms.

Having secured the support of a regional party which does not sit in cabinet, the government is in no immediate danger of collapsing.

However the reshuffle, which reports say could be as early as this weekend, is seen as an opportunity for Singh to bring in new blood and thus revive his party's prospects in the countdown to national polls due in the spring 2014.

Mr Singh's government has a tough two years before the next parliamentary elections, with several ministers facing corruption charges stemming from scandals over the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the sale of cellphone rights and allocation of coal fields that auditors said lost the country of billions of dollars.

Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press