Rasheeda Bhagat

Drama, sulks, ahead of TN elections

Updated on: Mar 07, 2011




The events following Mr Raja's arrest, the raids on Kalaignar TV and Tamil Maiyam, had put a question mark on the bonhomie between the DMK and the Congress. Add to this, the incumbency burden the ruling party faces in Tamil Nadu. Watch out for the Assembly elections.

As the DMK-Congress alliance hung by a hair's breadth on Monday, the crisis leading to the DMK announcing the end of the alliance with the Congress in Tamil Nadu and threatening to pull out six ministers from UPA-II, came as little surprise to political observers, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Clearly, the 2G spectrum scam involving DMK leader and former Telecom Minister, Mr A. Raja, who is now behind bars and, more important, the outrage in the country over this and other scams that tumbled out in quick succession from the UPA cupboard, had a big role to play in the souring of relations between the DMK and the Congress. The events following Mr Raja's arrest, the raids and investigation into organisations such as Kalaignar TV and Tamil Maiyam, the NGO with which Rajya Sabha MP and DMK chief, Mr M. Karunanidhi's daughter, Ms Kanimozhi, is associated, had already put a question mark on the bonhomie between the two parties.

Add to this, the huge incumbency burden the DMK faces in Tamil Nadu, a State where the political pendulum has swung with fine precision between the DMK and AIADMK in the last few Assembly elections, and it was evident that the DMK had become a big liability for the Congress — both at the Centre, where it is facing Opposition salvos on corruption and scams and, in Tamil Nadu, where the ruling DMK faces other charges of corruption as well.

And, hence, during the seat-sharing talks, the Congress demanded 60 seats, 12 higher than what it had got in the 2006 elections. And when a seething DMK granted this, and the Congress upped the wish-list to 63 seats, an enraged DMK called off the talks and threatened to pull out its ministers from the UPA. The sulking ally, of course, said it would give the UPA “issue-based support” from outside. On Monday, the DMK ministers landed in Delhi to submit their resignations even as last-ditch attempts were being made by Congress leaders to placate its ally.

Frustration in TN Congress

The reason for the acrimony between the two parties has a lot of baggage. Leaders of the Tamil Nadu Congress, which is extending outside support to the minority DMK government, have bitterly opposed the DMK enjoying the spoils of power at the Centre with six ministers, but refusing to give the Congress a share in the government in Tamil Nadu. Time and again, they have made a bid for getting their hands on some kind of power in the State government, but in vain.

Add to this the many factions that rule the Congress in Tamil Nadu, as in several other States, and the Youth Congress getting a feeling of self-importance by the Rahul Gandhi mantra, that it was time India's oldest party weaned itself away from coalition partners or regional parties, and the reason for the Congress upping the ante during elections parleys with the DMK becomes clear.

But the problem with the Congress is that, over long years in States such as Tamil Nadu, as indeed Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, etc, it has yielded much of the political space it had earlier occupied to its coalition partners.

Hence, allies like each of the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, snatched away a chunk of Congress support base and extended their empires. Today, the reality is that the grand old party requires much more than mere Rahul Gandhi charisma to regain that space.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress, which has been out of power for decades, has neither the grassroots cadre base nor the organisational structure required to win seats. Without an alliance with either the DMK or the AIADMK, it has no chance of reaching even a double-digit figure in the next Assembly. In the 2006 Assembly elections, the Congress contested from 48 seats and reaped a rich dividend of 35.

Heartburn + poor chemistry

On Monday, thanks to efforts to save the alliance, with the Congress stepping back a little, even as the DMK played the role of the wounded partner, it looked as though the alliance might yet be saved for the Tamil Nadu elections. But some Congress leaders in Tamil Nadu are extremely unhappy about the Congress bending over backwards to save the alliance with the DMK. While conceding that, on its own, the Congress would put up a miserable show “as we have no grassroots structure to make it work for us”, a TN Congress leader said even if the alliance was saved, thanks to a last-ditch effort by Delhi, “the heartburn caused by the entire fiasco will make it very difficult to work together as allies.”

To begin with, he said, the combine would be battling a “huge incumbency factor, and on the other side, we are facing a formidable group with the AIADMK stitching up an alliance with the Captain and the Left Parties.”

Against this backdrop, what was required was “a sense of deep camaraderie and friendly feeling” between the DMK and Congress leaders and workers. With barely five weeks to go before polling, this would be very difficult to garner, he feels. “The wounds are deep and the heartburn intense; even if we had worked together without all these differences and drama, it would have been a difficult election to win. Now, it will be even worse, I fear the DMK leaders and cadres will make no efforts for the victory of the Congress contestants and vice-versa.”

So why not an alliance with the AIADMK, as its chief, Ms J. Jayalalithaa, had already make an open offer sometime ago? “Well, Delhi is not in favour of such an alliance,” he sulked, clearly pointing to what at least this faction of the TN Congress wants. Sulks, drama, and innuendos apart, this will be one of the most interesting elections to watch in Tamil Nadu.

Response may be sent to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

Published on March 12, 2018

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