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With DMK's exit, it's endgame for UPA

Last updated on: March 20, 2013 12:15 IST

DMK pulls the plug, and it's endgame for the UPA

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Sheela Bhatt

With the DMK sticking to its position and withdrawing from the UPA, this government will be crisis-ridden and crisis-driven till the next election. The Congress party will run a paralytic government at the dictates of the parties supporting it from outside, says Sheela Bhatt.

No one can say for sure if the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will make good its threat of withdrawing support from the United Progressive Alliance government.

The party itsef is a house divided on the issue of withdrawal of support. DMK chief M Karunanidhi and his daughter Kanimozhi think that even after withdrawal from the UPA government their political position at home is not going to improve dramatically. If some reasonable solution is offered by the Congress, then the DMK should not withdraw support at this time, as anyway it won't lead to the fall of the government, says a source in the government.

But two other DMK strongmen, MK Stalin and TR Baalu, have taken a hardline stance and want to snap ties with the UPA and the Congress as soon as possible.

However, both sets of DMK leaders are keen that the international resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva and the proposed resolution in Parliament against Sri Lanka must have words like 'international independent investigation', 'genocide' and 'war crimes' to censure the Sri Lankan government. A reliable source in the government told rediff.com that in the final US-sponsored resolution, the word 'international' is only in the preamble and it may not be there in the main copy.

The DMK has kept its demands so unrealistic and impractical to follow diplomatically that no government can accept it in toto. Hence it is believed that the DMK leaders might be ready with a roadmap to withdraw from the UPA.

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Image: DMK chief M Karunanidhi

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Is the UPA government in trouble?

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The coming two days will be crucial when the DMK's main demand for a hard-line resolution in Parliament to voice India's dissatisfaction against the treatment of Tamils by the Sri Lankan government will be discussed. 

The Congress has played its cards well by telling the DMK that such a resolution should be discussed at an all-party meeting. If a consensus is arrived at the wording of the resolution, then the Congress will join hands with the DMK. But the Bharatiya Janata Party is likely to oppose harsh words that may amount to a diplomatic gaffe. There are chances that a mild-worded resolution may be tabled to give the DMK a face-saver.

In one way, the BJP, Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress are on the same page on the issue. They understand that such a resolution is not advisable against any South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation country.

The argument among some MPs goes that Pakistan's recent act of passing a critical resolution on the hanging of Afzal Guru in its national assembly was a rogue act and India had responded to it critically. Now India can't act in an unbecoming manner against an important neighbour, particularly with issues like Kashmir, north-east discontent and the Gujarat riots ready for exploitation by adversarial neighbours. It would be like opening an unnecessary front.

The crucial question, however, is whether the UPA government is in trouble. The answer is, it will not collapse immediately even if the DMK withdraws support.

The Samajwadi Party and even the Janata Dal-United have given enough indication to the Congress that they are not ready for general elections as yet.

The DMK's gamble is entirely due to its lost ground in Tamil Nadu in the last assembly elections.

The UPA will be short of a majority by around 48 seats in the Lok Sabha if the DMK withdraws support to the government.

But that's not a new crisis for this government.

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Image: (Left) Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

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The Congress will have to shelve its agenda

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The serious issue is of credibility. The threat of withdrawal support by Karunanidhi is a bigger jolt to UPA than the withdrawal of Trinmool Congress from the UPA in September 2012.

If the DMK sticks to its position one thing is certain -- this government will be crisis-ridden and crisis-driven till the next election. The Congress party will run a paralytic government at the dictates of the parties supporting it from outside. The end-game of the UPA-2 will begin if and when the DMK withdraws from the UPA coalition.

For the last many years, the DMK has been one of the more matured, seasoned and stable partners of the Congress. It has now expressed distrust, under the excuse of the Sri Lankan issue, in the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA coalition. It's an opportunistic move in view of their rejection in Tamil Nadu in the last assembly election. Once again the DMK leaders need a sensitive issue to get close to the people. The Sri Lankan Tamils plight gave the DMK the platform it needed badly.

That's why the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka in the United Nations body is a god-send for the DMK. It will allow it to distance itself clearly from the Congress, which is seen by Tamil voters as a party supporting the Sri Lankan government in the northern part of the island nation. Many DMK leaders, after enjoying power in New Delhi, want to cut their losses and identify with an issue that will resonate with young students in Tamil Nadu, who are agitating against the Sri Lankan government's atrocities against the Tamils there.

The DMK's withdrawal threat is helping it in its home ground while the Congress will be badly battered. In New Delhi even if, as Finance Minister P Chidambaram claims, they have the numbers, their power will be greatly compromised.

The DMK's withdrawal threat has presented tough choices for the Congress. If the DMK withdraws, then the UPA is merely a Congress-run government with the support of the NCP's 9 MPs. The rest of UPA allies have three or fewer MPs.   

The immediate fall-out of the DMK-Congress tussle will be that the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party's price to continue extending support will shoot up since the Congress will be more and more dependent on them.  

The Congress will have to shelve its agenda of economic reforms and other contentious issues that can irritate the SP or the BSP. Mulayam may ask for some difficult laws like the Muslim reservation bill or Mayawati may ask for an SC-ST reservation bill. The Congress will find it difficult to please both parties, and will lurch from crisis to crisis.

The endgame for UPA-2 will truly begin if the DMK finally decides to exit the UPA.


Image: Protesters burn a Sri Lankan flag during a strike in Chennai
Photographs: Babu/Reuters
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