How does one deal with a tainted ally? That is the 50 crore rupee question!
In the first week of January I wrote about a mysterious cheque worth over Rs 200 crore, and a trail that linked the ruling party in Tamil Nadu to one of the beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum 'sale'. We know how that story panned out. Investigators have now unearthed a second such transaction.
This concerns a transfer of 'only' Rs 50 crore. But it too leads to the doors of Kalaignar TV -- in which the Tamil Nadu chief minister's wife, Mrs Dayalu Ammal, holds 60 per cent of the equity. And this one too came courtesy of one of those firms involved in the sale of 2G spectrum.
As I understand, the entity that made over Rs 50 crore to Kalaignar TV is not Swan Telecom, the wing of DB Realty that is now in the news. But it seems the same excuse is being made -- or will be made shortly -- namely that it was all a 'loan'.
Going by the DB Realty-Swan-Kusegaon-Cineyug tale this is how it worked:
Cineyug wanted to buy a stake in Kalaignar TV, but the two could not agree about valuation. So Cineyug tells Kalaignar TV, 'We think you are over-valued. But we also believe your firm is so well-run that we would like to loan you over Rs 200 crore. What is more, we can discuss things like interest and repayment at some future date.'
Can you hear such a story without sniggering?
That, however, is precisely what Kalaignar TV -- by extension, the DMK -- would like us to believe. And we are to swallow without question that this happened not just once, but twice, once for over Rs 200 crore and once for Rs 50 crore!
If you happen to be a Congressman from Tamil Nadu is this something you can peddle to the electorate?
Small wonder if Congressmen from the Tamil Nadu wing are up in arms at the thought of continuing the alliance with the Karunanidhi family. But Sonia Gandhi has her own compulsions, and she has precedent on her side.
Forty years ago, Indira Gandhi was unsure about her chances in the Lok Sabha polls of 1971. This nervousness led to an extraordinary deal with Karunanidhi; in exchange for the lion's share of the Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu the Congress surrendered every assembly constituency.
Will Sonia Gandhi use the argument of retaining power in Delhi to over-ride her party's chances in Tamil Nadu, and corruption be damned?
The Congress president probably wishes that her followers in Tamil Nadu were as easy -- going as their counterparts across the Nilgiris. Congressmen in Kerala apparently have no problem in dealing with allies with a slightly questionable past.
On February 10, the Supreme Court itself handed down a one-year sentence to Kerala's former electricity minister R Balakrishna Pillai, finding proof of corruption in awarding contracts to the Idamalayar hydroelectric power project. But Balakrishna Pillai leads the Kerala Congress (B), 2011 is an election year in Kerala, and some Congressmen apparently shall not let a small thing like a Supreme Court verdict stand in the way of electoral alliances.
By now everyone must have heard of the allegations by K Sudhakaran, the Congress MP from Kannur, against a Supreme Court judge. But how many people realise that those remarks were made at a public function where Balakrishna Pillai was an honoured guest?
This was no aberration. Oomen Chandy, the last Congress chief minister of Kerala, reportedly described the verdict against Balakrishna Pillai as 'unfortunate' and the result of a 'political vendetta'.
Not to be left behind in this general outpouring of sympathy, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ramesh Chennithala went to express his grief in person to the 'unfortunate' Congress (B) chief. At this rate some Congress leaders may launch their election campaign from Thiruvananthapuram's Poojapura Central Jail!
The Congress is also embracing the beleaguered P K Kunhallikuty, one of those named in the sex scandal popularly called the 'Ice Cream Parlour Case'. The Muslim League leader's friendship with his estranged brother-in-law, K A Rauf, may be over, but the Congress is still a buddy.
I have no idea why the Congress is not doing its best to distance itself from those accused -- actually convicted in Balakrishna Pillai's case -- of corruption. It is almost as if Congressmen are going out of their way to make the coming assembly election more interesting by giving the Left Front some issues to use!
Speaking of the Left, let us not forget that a third major state is also going to the polls very soon, namely West Bengal. Here, interestingly enough, it is Mamata Banerjee that faces the dilemma which confronts the Congress in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu. Will she or will she not embrace a party that bears a whiff of corruption?
Her reputation for utter probity is one of Mamata Banerjee's key selling points in a state where the Left Front has lost some of its sheen when it comes to ethics. But the Congress has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons for about six months, ever since the Commonwealth Games controversies began. Will voters be turned off if the Trinamool Congress goes to the polls in alliance with the Congress?
The two parties have fought each other in several local body polls in the last two years -- and the Trinamool Congress came up trumps each time. But Mamata Banerjee is playing for higher stakes in the assembly elections; will she risk a rupture if that gives the Left Front even the slightest whiff of returning to power?
Somewhat ironically, the Congress -- whatever the rumours surrounding individual Congressmen -- is not really believed to be a corrupt organisation in these three states. Some would say that this is only because of lack of opportunity; the last Congress chief minister of West Bengal left office in 1977, the last Congress chief minister of Tamil Nadu (then still called 'Madras') gave way in 1967, and the Congress has been in a see-saw battle with the Left in Kerala since 1957.
But none of this might matter if the Congress is tainted by association with some of its allies -- something that wrecked the party in Bihar.
As late as six months ago I would have said the UPA partners would sweep both West Bengal and Kerala. (Tamil Nadu was always going to be a bit dicier.) And I do still think that the UPA holds the initiative. But at 6:30 on Sunday evening I also believed that 338 was a winning score!