DMK-Congress: From breakpoint to breakthrough?

(source: ndtv.com)

New Delhi: The marriage between the DMK and the Congress may not be over after all. This evening, just before the DMK’s six ministers were scheduled to meet the Prime Minister to resign from the government, party leader MK Stalin announced that the Congress had asked for another day to reassess the demands that had pushed the relationship to breaking point.

Mr Stalin said that the Congress will get back to the DMK tomorrow on how many seats it wants if the two parties decide to contest the Tamil Nadu elections as partners – as they have done in the past. Over the weekend, the DMK declared it was pulling out of the UPA coalition at the Centre because the Congress wanted three more seats than the 60 it was prepared to share.

The attempt to reconcile comes after the political equivalent of a couples counselling session was held in Delhi this afternoon with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee meeting with senior DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran. Mr Mukherjee also phoned DMK chief M Karunanidhi in Chennai to petition for a 24-hour reprieve.  Mr Karunanidhi’s daughter, Kanimozhi, said, “We can’t discuss every conversation in public. Negotiations are on and we will have a clearer picture tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, DMK ministers Dayanidhi Maran and MK Alagiri are meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi right now. Sources have told NDTV the Congress is likely to get 60 out of the 63 seats it wanted, and the DMK has also softened its stand on giving up winnable seats. It is likely that the PMK may lose three seats to accommodate the Congress.

The DMK has six union ministers and 18 MPs, allowing it to be an influential member of the coalition government at the Centre.

What has turned the allies into foes is the negotiation over what sort of role the Congress will play – first in the Tamil Nadu elections, and then in the state government if the DMK comes to power. Currently, the DMK government is supported “from outside” by the Congress – the latter is not part of the government. Elections in Tamil Nadu are scheduled for April 13. The Congress wants 63 seats, as opposed to the 60 that the DMK is prepared to part with. Also, the Congress has shortlisted some constituencies which have to be included in its share. That’s not acceptable to the DMK.

The split was first announced by the DMK on Saturday which apparently expected the Congress to respond with some serious TLC. The Congress instead chose to keep its distance, possibly emboldened by the fact that the Samajwadi Party has indicated it could replace the DMK in the coalition. On Sunday, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav claimed the UPA government will not fall – with his 22 MPs, that’s not an empty promise.

In the 543-seat Lok Sabha, the half-way mark is 272. The Congress has 207 seats. Allies like the DMK push the UPA’s tally to 274 – just two more than that critical half-way mark.

The DMK’s 18 seats push the government into a minority. But Mulayam’s 22 compensate nicely.

Divorce over 2G scam?

While the Congress and the DMK argue publicly over seats, sources say the real cause for the break-up is the DMK’s entanglement with the 2G spectrum scam. One of the DMKs main men, A Raja, who was Telecom Minister has been arrested for siring the scam, which saw valuable frequency being given at throwaway prices to private companies. A 214-crore kickback from the scam was allegedly routed to a TV station in Chennai that’s owned largely by Mr Karunanidhi’s wife, and his daughter Kanimozhi, who is an MP and a close associate of Mr Raja’s. The CBI, in charge of investigating the scam, has raided the homes and offices of people closely associated with Kanimozhi, and she is expected to be questioned in the next few weeks by the CBI. The DMK is getting increasingly uncomfortable with the inquiry and what it might throw up. The Congress, on the other hand, is suggested to be wary of asking for votes with a political partner whose senior members seem tarnished by corruption.

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