Explained! The DMK-Congress showdown
'How come?', 'why now?', 'what next?' Rediff.com's Krishnakumar Padmanabhan answers all your questions on the DMK-Congress drama!
The Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam seat sharing talks, which began on February 20, finally seems to have broken down after three rounds on March 5, with the DMK quitting the Union cabinet and giving issue-based support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.
What happened in the meeting?
As soon as it became clear that the Congress was not going to agree to the DMK's best offer, everybody in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's family and other senior party leaders wanted to quit the alliance.
Chief among them was the chief minister's elder son, M K Alagiri. When it became clear on Thursday that talks are about to break down, Karunanidhi convened an informal meeting at his home.
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Image: DMK chief M Karunanidhi
Alagiri, Maran wanted to exit alliance, Stalin was nuetral
In that meeting, Alagiri made it very clear that he had had enough with the Congress and was said to be the most vocal about ending the alliance. He is said to have promised to deliver a huge chunk of seats from the 110 southern Tamil Nadu constituencies to compensate for the Congress's absence.
Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister and Karunanidhi's younger son, M K Stalin, took a neutral stand, wanting to thoroughly weigh the pros and cons of the
Senior party leader K N Nehru was among those who were firmly for continuing the alliance with the Congress at any cost.
From a different camp, former Union Minister T R Baalu promised to negotiate with the Congress and take the talks to a fruitful conclusion.
Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran was in favour of ending the alliance, citing the arrogant Congress behaviour.
Image: M K Azhagiri (front) with brother MK Stalin and Dayanidhi Maran
'Rahul does not want to continue with the DMK'
With so many variations and opinions on how to continue with the situation, Karunanidhi is said to have ended the argument. He asked the senior leaders that though there may be merit in continuing in the government, whether it was judicious to carry on despite the repeated humiliation heaped by the Congress.
Thus, the decision to quit the government was taken on Friday night, after which Karunanidhi released a statement making public the various 'unreasonable Congress demands.'
The Congress's views
"We can afford to lose badly in the five states that are going to polls," said a Tamil Nadu congress functionary. "But that will be nothing as compared to the kind of damage that will be caused to our image if we are seen to be clinging on the DMK."
With the Tamil Nadu Congress being ridden by factionalism, the party as a whole was looking to New Delhi for direction with respect to the DMK alliance. That direction, TN Congress sources say, is being given by Rahul Gandhi, who takes inputs from his bunch of youth leaders in the state.
"It is very clear that he does not want to continue with the DMK," said the functionary, who is from a north Indian state and has spent the last one year in Tamil Nadu Congress. "Moreover, if we have ambitions in a state like Tamil Nadu, we will have to stand on our own legs at some point or the other. So, why not now? Even if we lose badly, this would at least be a starting point to regain our glory days in the state"
DMK sources also said the Congress is being very ambitious.
Image: Rahul Gandhi with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi
'We will not go down with a whimper'
"Take everything out of the equation and tell me," started a DMK leader. "Isn't 60 seats a very respectable figure for the Congress, that too in a state like Tamil Nadu, where it has no standing? They have proved that they clearly have other agendas. And it is very clear that we do not fit in that agenda new agenda. Otherwise this charade would not have lasted this long."
The 2G backlash
The biggest question that arises out of the DMK's latest move is whether there would be a Congress-motivated backlash against it in the 2G scam via the Central Bureau of Investigation.
"We have clear signals from the party leadership that we have to be prepared for such an eventuality," said a DMK leader from a southern district.
He said that whoever is implicated in the 2G scam is prepared to "face the consequences."
"But that doesn't mean we will go down with a whimper," he said, adding, "Even as we are ready to face the consequences, we will also take the real truth behind the scam to the people."
Image: Former Union telecom minister A Raja
'Even if this means severing ties, our leader wants to do it cordially'
What does issue-based support mean?
The way Karunanidhi's statement was framed reminded one of a parody of the convoluted way Time magazine was written: 'Backward ran sentences, till reeled the mind.'
Phrases like 'our good ally Congress', 'this long-standing alliance built on the foundation of secular ideas', Thyaga Thiruvilakku (Epitome of sacrifice) Sonia Gandhi, 'the situation that was inevitably created in the current environment left us with no other option' peppered the painstakingly written statement.
What was not said in the resolution was more significant than what was said. By implication, the simple message was that if the Congress agreed to take 60 seats, all could still be well with the alliance.
A DMK leader explained it thus: "Even if this means severing ties, our leader wants to do it cordially. That is why he has left the door open for the Congress to still agree and stay on in the alliance. And he also doesn't want to let go of political niceties."
That is why, the leader said, instead of completely withdrawing support, Karunanidhi had said the DMK will give the Congress issue-based support.
Remember how Congress treated Lalu?
"He could have very well walked out clean and dry," he said. "But he doesn't want to be the one to take that decision. He has now left it to the Congress and it is up to them to decide how to proceed from here."
Even official spokesperson TKS Elangovan, when asked if the alliance can survive if the Congress agrees to take the number of seats allotted, said: "It is up to the Congress."
Consequences for the UPA at the Centre
The general belief in Congress circles is that the party can fill the 18-seat void left by the DMK in many ways. They may have to look at less reliable allies than the DMK for sure, but there wont be any major harm to the government.
But the DMK's thought is different on this topic.
"We stood by them through thick and thin for so long," said a leader at the party headquarters. "Now they have treated us badly. Whichever way they make up the numbers, they can never deny that no other party has stood by them the way we have, barring probably (former Railway Minister) Lalu (Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal). And we all know how the Congress treated him. We should have learnt our lessons earlier."
Image: File photo shows Karunanidhi greeting Sonia
Outside party offices, celebrations!
Probably what nobody noticed was how the news was received on Friday in the respective party headquarters.
While there were slogans urging the DMK leadership to sever ties with the Congress from Friday morning, the kind of jubilant roar that greeted the announcement in the evening was unprecedented.
The low and mid-level cadre are the ones who make or break elections. Further, the DMK is primarily a cadre-based party.
The indecision in the alliance with merely weeks to go before the elections was getting on the grassroot level workers' nerves. Lower and middle level functionaries have been thronging Anna Arivalayam for the past three days with the hope that the alliance would be cemented and they would be given clear directions to start work in their respective constituencies.
Similarly, the Congress headquarters in New Delhi too witnessed similar scenes.
Both sets of leadership definitely heard the roar outside the respective party offices when the news came. It would be in their best interest if they also listened to their cadre.
Image: Supporters galore at the DMK party office in Chennai