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With such friends, Cong needs no foes

March 18, 2005

Vinaash-kaale vipreet buddhi!' Jayaprakash Narayan sighed when Indira Gandhi's goons came to arrest him. One could say the same of the party led by the late prime minister's daughter-in-law. There might have been some kind of political rationale to taking on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Goa, Bihar, and Jharkhand. (Even if the logic escapes us lesser mortals!) But what was the point of doing so when your own friends were spoiling for a fight? The untold story of the last days of February and the first weeks of March came in Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram.

The problems in Tamil Nadu began when Union Minister of State for Commerce E V K S Elangovan said the Congress expected to join a coalition ministry in the state after the assembly election next year. (The Congress is part of a DMK-led coalition in Tamil Nadu.) He also reportedly made a personal attack on the DMK chief. An angry Karunanidhi pointedly recalled his ministers from Delhi for 'consultations.' The Congress got the message, and Ambika Soni called Karunanidhi to apologise, followed by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The crisis ended with Elangovan making the pilgrimage in person to ask for mercy.

DMK wants action against Cong minister

Karunanidhi forgave him, but he refused to bend on the larger issue of Congress participation in a ministry led by him. 'They should ponder,' he said, 'whether the Congress would have accepted a coalition in Delhi if it had won an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.' (He mischievously added that the posters attacking Elangovan were probably the handiwork of the police!)

Some facts must be understood to grasp the significance of these events. First, Elangovan is no newcomer to politics; his granduncle was the great Periyar (E V Ramaswamy Naicker, revered by the DMK and the ADMK alike as the man who shaped a distinctive Dravidian voice. Would a man with his experience speak unprompted? Karunanidhi, who understands the game as well as anyone, gave notice that he could not be treated as a junior partner.

Please remember Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, and Shibu Soren accepted Congress representation in their ministries. Karunanidhi is saying there is no question of allowing the Congress a single seat in his council of ministers. The Congress, through its abject surrender, admitted that it is totally subservient in Tamil Nadu. The DMK has effectively given notice that it has its own interests and shall pursue them independent of the Congress if so required. That is more than anyone else in the United Progressive Alliance has dared to do. (Sharad Pawar's NCP, for instance, caved in when the Congress demanded the chief minister's chair in Mumbai even though the NCP won more seats.)

The first to grasp the significance of Karunanidhi's boldness were Karunakaran and his I-Group in neighbouring Kerala. Their feud with A K Antony led to a complete rout in the Lok Sabha election, where the Congress failed to win a single seat. Having got rid of Antony, the I-Group has trained its guns on his successor as chief minister, Oomen Chandy. Their method is, I must admit, unique, with the I-Group effectively duplicating the 'official' Congress. If one side holds a rally, the other one follows suit. If one side has a Youth Congress, the other one puts up a parallel organisation.

Matters have reached the stage where the chief minister demanded disciplinary action against the deputy leader of the Congress legislature party in Kerala, M P Gangadharan. His sin was daring to attend an I-Group rally. Muraleedharan, Karunakaran's son and political heir, countered this by attacking Oomen Chandy. Tongue firmly in cheek, he said the chief minister had torpedoed all chances of a settlement. The Congress high command is conspicuous by its silence.

I can only speculate that Sonia Gandhi is following a strategic route rather than a tactical one. She knows the Congress-led United Democratic Front is hopelessly placed in Kerala. (It will get around 30 seats in a House of 140 assuming the general election results are reflected in the assembly poll.) But the Congress's major foe in Kerala is not the BJP, it is the Left Front. Why anger the Marxists by strengthening the Congress in Kerala?

All said and done, the Communists are the only ones who have the numerical strength to pull down the United Progressive Alliance ministry in Delhi. Sonia Gandhi probably thinks sacrificing her ministers in Thiruvananthapuram is preferable to her ministers in Delhi losing their jobs.

Congress spokespersons mocked the BJP when it spoke of 'coalition dharma.' But it is making a hash of it when forced into a similar situation. Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal-United spurned offers to form a ministry in Patna because Ram Vilas Paswan demanded that the BJP be kept out. Karunanidhi, who is an ostensible ally of the Congress, says he shall not give his partner a single deputy ministership. That, of course, is a matter for the United Progressive Alliance to settle, but one question remains: Was there any need to pick a fight in Jharkhand, Bihar, and Goa when Kerala and Tamil Nadu were still smouldering?

T V R Shenoy

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Number of User Comments: 9

Sub: Next time show same passion

Shenoy, Next time write about trouble in Madhya Pradesh and revold against Modi in Gujrat with same passion. Call it the saffron friends fighting for ...

Posted by Jitendra

Sub: let the barking dogs be

whenever an incisive article comes out, those who cananot or dare not or afraid to face the truth start foul lingo - the best is ...

Posted by t.Jayaraman

Sub: T V R Shenoy

I cannot agree more with the contents of T V R Shenoy's essay, but not with his screaming overtones. Does he think that it is ...

Posted by KJ

Sub: Congressmen greedy as usual

In TN people have always given very decisive poll verdicts since independence. Hence Karunanidhi was correct in saying that people will not accept a coalition ...

Posted by Sridhar

Sub: congress

Why are you hell bent on writing everything against the Congress. Stop doing this and I hope you have better things to do. Our's is ...

Posted by himanshu


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