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Decoded: Congress games in Tamil Nadu

Last updated on: March 7, 2011 12:40 IST

Decoded: Congress games in Tamil Nadu

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Sheela Bhatt analyses the gameplan behind the Congress's decision to play hardball in Tamil Nadu, to the extent that it doesn't care if the DMK walks out of the UPA government at the Centre.

The battle for the 234-seat Tamil Nadu assembly is getting intriguing with the Congress party unwilling to accept the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's offer of 60 seats, 12 seats more than the last assembly election, but 18 seats less than what the party's high command wanted before the talks for seat sharing began.

The impact of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi is at work. He wants the party to rebuild its grassroot base and prefers to go alone at the polls. The Congress party's debacle in the Bihar assembly election last year has not made any enduring impact on the spirit of the Gandhis.

In fact, on Sunday night, senior Congress leaders claimed they have three options: They could go in for an alliance with the DMK; they could go to the polls alone; or they could start negotiations with J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The audacity of the Congress party is worth noting. A full day has passed since the DMK threatened to walk out of the government, but the Congress has remained unmoved.

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Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi with her son Rahul Gandhi

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The real politics is being played at another level

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Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is desperate to have ties with the Congress for next year's assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. His party's fixers are already talking about offering 100 seats to the Congress in the state.

Yadav has lent his support to the United Progressive Alliance, so the UPA government has no risk to its survival. That is why it seems the Congress-DMK electoral alliance will fructify only on terms suitable to the Congress party.

The first glimpse into the Congress's future strategy will be visible if the Congress-DMK alliance breaks.

"If we go with 60 seats, which are not entirely of our choice, then how many of it will we win ultimately?" asks a Congress leader, adding, "On the other hand, if we go alone, we will manage more or less the same number of seats that we will get by having an alliance with the DMK."

The real politics is actually being played at another level.


Image: A street scene in Chennai. Image used for representational purposes
Photographs: Philip Brown/Reuters
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Compensation for tolerating the taint?

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The Congress wants the DMK to pay the political price for the 2G spectrum scandal. For long, the Congress has survived at the mercy of its ally in Tamil Nadu. Now, the party wants equal footing.

The Congress wants to be compensated in terms of seats for preserving the alliance in spite of the 2G spectrum taint on the DMK.

In fact, the latest party survey has thrown up two different propositions.

If the Congress, J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and actor-politician Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam party join hands, that alliance would win 200 seats and sweep the polls.

Another possibility that emerged from the survey was that the DMDK, which polled 8.38 per cent and 10.08 per cent votes in the 2006 assembly and 2009 Lok Sabha elections respectively, was the kingmaker.

If the DMDK had remained unattached, instead of going along with the AIADMK as it has done now, there were some chances of the DMK retaining power.


Image: Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam chief Vijayakanth

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Understanding Congress's tough stand

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Armed with such figures and ground reports, the Congress's oft-repeated word for the DMK's predicament is 'compulsion'.

The Congress finds its hand stronger due to the DMK's sliding fortunes and former telecom minister and DMK leader Andimuthu Raja's arrest in the 2G spectrum case.

The Congress has also taken a tough stand due to the divisions within the party in the state.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is aiming to make a mark in his native state this election. But Shipping Minister G K Vasan, arguably the most influential Congress leader in Tamil Nadu, wants to cut every other leader down to size.

The same is true within the DMK where sharp divisions have emerged with M K Alagiri, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's elder son, understanding grassroots politics better than anyone else in the party's next generation.


Image: In happier times: Sonia Gandhi greets DMK supremo M Karunanidhi's elder son M K Alagiri

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Calculations and some logic

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Many known and hidden forces and logic drove the talks between the Congress and the DMK.

Caste calculations, local issues, a future power-sharing arrangement, the money game and the impact of an alliance in Chennai on the power-sharing arrangement in New Delhi were the influencing factors.

According to reliable sources in the party, the Congress negotiating team had asked for 78 seats to begin with.

But the DMK had already given 31 seats to the Pattali Makkal Katchi much before talks with the Congress began.

Of the remaining 203 seats, the Congress leaders claim the DMK had moved ahead in fixing constituencies for its party candidates and were adamant about not placing certain seats on the table for discussion.

Chidambaram was blunt in reacting to this allotment of seats to other allies.


Image: Karunanidhi with PMK founder Dr S Ramadoss

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The Congress is ready to strike back

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It is important to note that Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi was present when DMK president M Karunanidhi met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on January 31. The trio had then discussed some basic issues of seat-sharing.

Whatever the final fate of the DMK-Congress alliance, it is clear that the Congress is ready to strike back.

After a series of scandals and adverse Supreme Court rulings, the party seems to be taking a grip on the situation.

In spite of the scandals and the credibility crisis, the Congress neither appears down nor out. It is as if the 2G scam left no taint behind.

According to a senior Congress leader, "In the 2G spectrum investigation, things have moved as much as possible. After A Raja's arrest, nobody can accuse the government about not doing enough."


Image: Former telecom minister A Raja

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'See me after 6 months. You will see the difference'

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In fact, there is buzz in New Delhi that the Hasan Ali Khan case may see a shocking turn.

The investigating agency is verifying if the documents related to Hasan Ali Khan's foreign bank accounts are genuine or not.

Some lawyers claim it may be fake, got into government files, and that it was on the basis of those documents that notices were issued to Hasan Ali Khan for tax violations with serious implications.

The investigation to verify the documents in the Hasan Ali Khan case is still not complete. But the Congress party is slowly and firmly showing it will be back on its feet in less than two to three months.

A senior Cabinet minister and an important party leader in a South Indian state told Rediff.com, "See me after six months. You will see the difference."

The minister said his party is banking on the Food Security Bill to create socio-political-economic history.


Image: Businessman Hasan Ali Khan

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Playing games behind the scenes

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The Congress became ambitious in dealing with the DMK after the 2G spectrum scam.

What they cherish is that the investigation has not arrived at the door of any Congress leader and they are, so far, able to claim that the 2G spectrum is the doing of the DMK alone.

The turning point in the DMK-Congress dynamics came when the money trail, investigated by agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation, led to the DMK's first family. Congressmen had their bargaining chip.

As we know, no political alliance breaks for three seats -- that too a seven-year-old alliance.

The two parties are playing games behind the scenes and using the media to ensure that if the alliance doesn't work out, the blame should fall on the other side.

The blame game, the expressions of leaders and their message are very important. Tamilian parties wear pride on their sleeves.


Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greets Karunanidhi. Also seen, Dayanidhi Maran

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Looking for an excuse

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If the Congress breaks up the alliance with arrogance in its body language, then the DMK leadership will have an excuse to pacify its agitated cadres that they did not buckle under New Delhi's (read North Indian) pressure.

DMK leaders will go to town saying they were ready to sacrifice power in New Delhi to preserve the Dravidian identity.

Azhagiri said on Sunday night, 'We have no expectations of a patch-up. It won't affect our poll results.'

He asked his supporters, 'I am very happy to come out of the UPA. Are you also happy?'

'Our problem is gone,' he declared, 'because the Congress is gone.'


Image: Alagiri, right, with his brother M K Stalin, Tamil Nadu's deputy chief minister

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Will the Congress consider talking to Jaya?

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If the DMK-Congress alliance ends this week, then some questions arise:

Is it advantage J Jayalalithaa and her AIADMK party?

Will the Congress consider talking to the AIADMK?

The AIADMK has already sealed a deal with the DMDK, giving Vijaykanth's party 41 seats. Jayalalithaa has also held talks with the Left parties. The Congress will find that out of 234 assembly seats, again, there are less than 200 seats on the table.

Why would Jayalalithaa cut into her sphere of influence by allowing the Congress to dictate terms?

If the Congress gets a reasonable number of seats, Jayalalithaa will cut her space much before the election.

However, the pre-election surveys suggest an impressive victory for her if the AIADMK joins hands with the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi's 'Eklo Chalo (let us go it alone)' tune has many notes, which needs refinement.

Let us wait and see the fascinating permutations and combinations in the Tamil Nadu bioscope.


Image: A party worker gives finishing touches to a wall painting of J Jayalalitha

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