After a drubbing in the Bihar assembly polls, Krishnakumar Padmanabhan finds that Congress workers are sceptical about Rahul Gandhi's charisma working in the TN polls.
Developments in the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance is fast moving into the next gear with both sides weighing the pros and cons of the different options lying ahead of them.
Though the tension that had built up following the Central Bureau of Investigation raids on former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja and his associates has not abated, indications are that neither party is willing to call it a day yet. More importantly, the recent developments have left the DMK cornered and the Congress can call all the shots. In a fashion typical of someone who knows they wield considerable power over a partner, the Congress has been sending out mixed signals.
Consider what a senior congress minister said: "The alliance will continue. The DMK is a dependable ally. In fact, the kind of relationship we have with it, we do not have with any other ally. This is one party that we can communicate with at different levels Azhagiri, Stalin, Duraimurugan, Kanimozhi, and Dayanidhi Maran. In fact, if it is required we can even reach party chief Karunanidhi himself."
But though the minister confidently asserts this much, the signs that emerged out of the Congress plenary in New Delhi had enough indications to show that the Congress now calls the shots and the onus is completely with the DMK to keep the alliance intact.
On the first day of the plenary, Sivakasi MP Manika Tagore, a youngster handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, sent out a cryptic message, saying that the Congress "should not make any compromises for the sake of striking an alliance" ahead of the May 2011 Tamil Nadu assembly election, and that for the state Congress, its "self-esteem comes above everything."
This clearly showed that the Congress was was on top and that it may not settle for the number of seats it contested in the last election. The comment also left the door open for the Congress to pull out at the last minute.
The second day of the plenary saw senior leaders from the state and state unit leaders discuss the prospects of the alliance. Though there was no announcement from the leaders, it was clear that the mood among the functionaries was that of wanting to go it alone in the state.
"There is nothing left for the Congress in the alliance except a bad name. I have no clue why they are still stuck with the DMK after so much has come out. The people in the state will now associate the Congress with the DMK's taint. Already people are saying that if the Congress is still with the DMK, then the party is also involved in the 2G spectrum scam," said a senior southern Tamil Nadu leader and PCC member.
The rank and file are also intrigued by the role Rahul Gandhi is playing in a state about which he has not much knowledge.
"Ever since he came here towards the end of 2009 to rejuvenate the youth Congress and the party grassroots, he has been keeping a tight leash on the party even while sitting in New Delhi," said a PCC member from Tamil Nadu. "So it has been very clear from the beginning that he would want to go it alone in the elections. But the problem is, we do not know how much he knows about the dynamics of the state. We do not want a situation where we go alone and just end up playing spoiler for the other parties while not winning anything ourselves."
Being a state that has had strong local leaders despite ugly factionalism, the state leaders and workers are worried about whether the high command would take the right decision.
"If we go with the DMK, we stand to lose about 40 percent of our current numbers," said another PCC member. If we go with the AIADMK, we will gain about 20 percent. But the best case scenario is to convince the AIADMK to form an umbrella alliance including the DMK and Vijayakant. That way we will dominate the elections."
He said if the party goes it alone, there is a huge risk of it being relegated to a non-entity in the state, where it is now the third largest party.
"If we go it alone, though it might dent the two traditional Dravidian parties, we wont gain anything. We will only end up helping Vijayakant win many seats by playing spoiler to the big two and in turn make him the third prominent actor in the state. All said and done, there is no harm in being with the DMK. That we will also save both the Thai and Sei. (Mother and child the central and the state government where either party props up the other)"
With the election fast approaching, Congressmen now have their fingers crossed and are hopeful that following Rahul Gandhi's visit to Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, there will be clear message from the party.
"But in reality, what has Rahul Gandhi done?" asked an influential AICC member from the state. "He wants to implement the Bihar formula in TN. That will only end up yielding the Bihar results (The party ended up with just 4 seats)."
He said if the party is serious about making an impact in Tamil Nadu, then more than wasting time on arm twisting the DMK at a time when it is down in the dumps, the high command should arrive at a conclusion soon, so that the workers will have ample time to make the most out of it.
"We don't care what the high command decides," the AICC member said. "Sitting in New Delhi, their decisions regarding state issues have mostly been bizarre anyway. The least the grassroots worker expects is to have a clear message that is sent out early, so that he can begin work on the elections. So, the least the high command can do is to not drag this thing till the last minute and leave the workers confused. But sadly this is what they have been doing time and again and i don't think this time too wont be very different."
19 December: Rahul's man in Tamil Nadu, Manika Tagore, MP, says the Congress should not be in an alliance that compromises its self-esteem.
21 December: DMK's Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, and Union Fertilizers minister M K Azhagiri reach Delhi to "attend committee meetings" and "Cabinet formalities" respectively. But the buzz is Azhagiri might meet senior Congress leaders with a message from Karunanidhi.
22 December: Rahul Gandhi to visit Tamil Nadu.