The arrest of Mr Raja is unlikely to improve DMK's image by a huge margin. Its only saviour will be poll arithmetic.

The arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of the former Communications and IT Minister, Mr A. Raja, has come so late — he was forced to step down as Minister in November 2010 — that it reeks of blatant political expediency.

Mr Raja stands accused of causing the public exchequer a perceived loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore by resorting to allocation rather than auction of 2G spectrum.

But just like the raids on Mr Raja's houses and offices, which came well after he had quit as Minister, and to placate an angry Opposition, his arrest too seems tied to political events.

The first, of course, will be the Budget session of Parliament; the entire winter session was a washout with an unyielding Opposition demanding a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) probe.

Political compulsions

But the much more important political event is that Tamil Nadu goes to the polls in two months with the DMK-Congress alliance. Within the top brass of the DMK, there was palpable wrath that Mr Raja's shenanigans, and the DMK patriarch, Mr M. Karunanidhi's unwillingness to sack him from the party, would affect its prospects in the coming elections.

Even Mr Karunanidhi's family was divided on the issue, with reports of the elder son and the Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister, Mr M. K. Alagiri, threatening to resign.

But what seems to have tipped the scale is the buzz that Mr Karunanidhi did not get too warm a reception from the Congress President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, in Delhi on January 31 during the seat-sharing talks.

Following the publication of the Niira Radia tapes and the CAG report on the 2G scam, despite mouthing of platitudes by both the parties on the DMK-Congress alliance remaining intact, there is a clear chill in the relations.

If Mr Karunanidhi was indeed made to wait for long hours before Ms Sonia called him over, as reported in a section of the media, that must have really hurt.

Within the ranks of the Congress that has supported the minority DMK Government for five years, there is growing clamour not only for more seats — over 75 compared to 48 it got last time — but also a share in power.

The argument is that after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the DMK had bargained hard for plum portfolios, and one of them — Telecommunications — has landed the UPA-II in such a big mess. No other scam in India's recent political history has hurt a ruling dispensation more than the 2G scam.

Forget the Lok Sabha stalling by the Opposition parties, the image of the UPA Government has been tarnished in the eyes of the nation. For inflicting such a vicious wound on the UPA, the DMK would have to pay, is the reasoning of the Congress circles in Tamil Nadu.

Uphill task

Though poll arithmetic is an important factor in a State where political parties have committed vote-banks, the DMK faces an uphill task to return to power. Along with the 2G scam and other corruption charges against the ruling dispensation, let's not forget the pendulum factor in Tamil Nadu politics; the electorate tends to swing its patronage from one to the other Dravidian party in successive elections.

This has been taking place religiously from 1991 when the AIADMK swept to power with a brutal majority following Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, to make way for the DMK in 1996, to again wrest power with an impressive 132 seats in 2001, only to lose once again in 2006.

Ironically enough, though nowhere near either the DMK or the AIADMK in terms of political clout, the Congress has managed to win in alliance with one or the other Dravidian party in the last two decades.

In 1996, the Congress was with the AIADMK which lost, but the major splinter group of TMC, formed by G. K. Moopanar, contested the election with the DMK.

Right now, the PMK, as is its wont, is blowing hot and cold towards the DMK. But if the PMK and Captain Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) go with the AIADMK, this election might just end that trend.

After so much water has flown down the Cooum, the arrest of Mr Raja is unlikely to improve the DMK's image by a huge margin. Its only saviour will be poll arithmetic; the DMK needs the PMK, along with the Congress, as much, or more, as both the parties need the DMK to get a decent number of seats.

(This article was published on February 3, 2011)
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