Why DMK Pulled Out from UPA Government?

Ever since Raja was forced to resign from the central government, political analyst had been expecting its fall out on the Congress-DMK alliance. DMK chose not to react at that time so as not to give the impression that it was in any way involved with the 2 G Scam. Instead, it chose to wait for the right opportunity and the right excuse. On the other hand, the Congress had also realised that dumping DMK would, to a large extent, dilute the impact of the 2 G Scam.

The inevitable finally happened on 5th March 2011, when DMK pulled out from the UPA government at the centre over failure of seat sharing negotiations with the Congress. Going by its reaction, Congress appears to be in no panic and has instead tried to play down the issue.

We have often heard of the term “marriage of convenience” in politics. This is a good example of “divorce of convenience” where both the parties were equally keen to dump each other.

According to the DMK, the seat sharing talks failed after Congress went back on its agreed position.It claims that Congress’s demand kept changing throughout the negotiations and finally the DMK had even agreed to give 60 seats to Congress as compared to 48 in the last assembly election. Gulam Nabi Azad, Congress’s negotiator, had also accepted 60 seats but changed his position after talking to Delhi.

Congress’s demand, it is believed, was influenced by factionalism within the party. Union minister and CWC member G K Vasan wanted 17 seats for his supporters while Chidambaram was gunning for 10. Rahul Gandhi further added to the confusion by demanding 7 seats for youth wing. Accounting for all these demands, the total number of seats required by Congress has gone up to 65 from 48 contested in 2006 assembly election.

The question however is not of numbers but is in fact of respective strategies of the two parties. The CBI inquiry of the 2 G Scam has virtually reached the doorsteps of the Karunanidhi family. While the CBI inquiry is being directly monitored by the Supreme Court and there is not much the Congress can do to influence the probe, the Congress must have used this opportunity to put Karunanidhi under pressure and at the same time claiming to be helpless in the matter. If Subramanium Swamy is to be believed, Raja and Karunanidhi are not the only beneficiaries of the 2 G Scam and there is a possibility of the largest share having gone to Sonia Gandhi, through her two sisters in Italy. This would mean that it would be in the interest of Congress as well to prevent the inquiry from going too deep into the matter. Sonia and Karuna may have agreed to sacrifice Raja to save their skin. However, Congress doesn’t have the situation fully under its control due to the key role being played by the Supreme Court in this matter. Further, the opposition would use the recently constituted JPC on 2 G Scam to embarrass the Congress and the DMK. The Congress would have realised that trying to save Karunanidhi may be risky and therefore has decided to dump the DMK but forcing it into a corner during the seat searing negotiations. The DMK, on the other hand, would be happy as it can contest all the assembly seats by itself and would no longer have to be dependent on the support from Congress MLAs. With the assembly elections already announced, DMK no longer has to worry about the support of Congress MLAs in the Tamil Nadu assembly. By offering issue based support to the UPA the DMK would try to “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds” that is to continue wielding pressure on the UPA Government by using its 18 MPs till the 2013 (or earlier?) General Elections and at the same time criticize the government when convenient.

The Congress has to worry about the numbers in the Lok Sabha. DMK has stopped short of fully withdrawing support and has now proposed issue based support. This gives the DMK an opportunity to behave like an ally as well as like an opposition party at the same time. Something similar to what the Left parties did during the UPA-1 rule. Congress would be weighing its options as well. Jai Lalitha has already hinted at the possibility of offering support. The problem is that AIDMK only has 9 MPs and the Congress would still need another 9 to make up for the loss. Other options are BSP, SP and BJD. Given Rahul Gandhi’s keen interest to see Congress improve its position in UP, taking support from BSP and SP may not be the preferred option.

BJD could be a viable option. However, Navin Patnaik would demand his pound of flesh too. Immediately, this may mean clearing the Lanjigarh Mines for the Vedanta Alumina Refinery. The Congress may not be too averse to the idea. Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal needs Congress’s support not just for the Lanjigarh Mine but also from the Cairns acquisition deal. Removal of Murali Deora as the Minister of Petroleum during the last minor reshuffle has already paved the way for a rapprochement on the matter. Further, after announcement of the Reliance-BP deal Mukesh Ambani may not oppose Vedanta’s take over of Cairns India. As an additional incentive, a settlement with Anil Agarwal would also help the party coffer of the Congress.

It would be interesting to watch if the Congress still tries to resolve the issue with the DMK. If not, then how many seats it can win own its own? My guess is that the Congress may not win more than 25-30 seats if it goes alone in TN. However, the bigger issue is whether the DMK would survive the 2G Scam crisis coupled with the anti incumbency factor during this election? Going by historical trends, it is AIDMK’s turn now to win the election. If so, dumping DMK may not be such a bad idea for the Congress.

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