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Analysis: Why Jayalalitha is happiest at the DMK's pullout from UPA

By S Murari
Last updated on: March 19, 2013 19:07 IST
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The DMK will not regret parting company with the Congress as Karunanidhi knows that in this era of coalitions, it is impossible for the Congress-led government to seek a third term, given its track of record of scams. Even otherwise, the Congress has no base in Tamil Nadu where it has been out of power since 1967, says S Murari

After crying wolf for at least four years now, Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam president M Karunanidhi has at long last walked out of the United Progressive Alliance government, ending nine years of uneasy alliance with the Congress and thereby reducing the already wobbly Manmohan Singh government to a minority.   

So often he had held out threats to quit the government at the Centre that it had become a joke. So much so, Karunanidhi himself lamented that no one was taking him seriously when he held out the latest threat that his party would leave the government if India did not adopt a tough stand against Sri Lanka on its “genocidal war against the Tamils” at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting underway in Geneva.

Karunanidhi, who always projected himself as the champion of Tamils the world over, lost his credibility when he became a party to the India-assisted final battle of the Sri Lankan forces with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, resulting in the decimation of its entire leadership, including not only Prabhakaran and family, but also an estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final military push in May 2009.    

For he was then a key partner of the UPA and his son MK Alagari, grand nephew Dayanidhi Maran and protégé A Raja were all holding key positions in the Union Cabinet. If he had pulled out of the government then, he might have forced India to intervene and bring about a ceasefire. Instead, to cover his track, he carried out a series of clumsy manouvres like setting a deadline of October 28, 2008, for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, securing the resignation of party MPs and then dropping the plan after a tough talk given to him by the then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee  

Then, he went on a breakfast-to-lunch fast forcing the then foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to call Sri Lankan Defence Minister Gothabaya and tell him ‘to please do something’ and the Sri Lankan government immediately announcing that it would not use heavy calibre weapons.

But by then the Sri Lankan forces were then within touching distance from Prabhakaran and his band of fighters and there was no need for them to use long-range artillery guns. Clutching at this straw, dipped into orange juice, Karunanidhi called off his fast, proclaiming that the war had ended.

The battle entered the bloodiest finale only after that, leading to the cold-blooded execution of captured Tiger fighters, rape and murder of women fighters and the shooting dead at point blank range of Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran, these and other gory details brought out by Britain’s Channel 4 television channel. 

Because of that farcical fast, Karunanidhi left himself open to the charge that he sacrificed the lives of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians to protect his own family’s interest. A charge his rival All India Anna DMK leader J Jayalalitha has been making since the end of the Eelam war.

After Channel 4 aired the documentary, titled Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, the United States and other Western powers mounted pressure on the Sri Lankan government to investigate into allegations of war crimes, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances during the final days of the Eelam war. 

When the US moved a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva March last year, Karunanidhi yet again threatened to quit the UPA government if India did not support it. India was against supporting country-specific resolutions. It made an exception to placate Karunanidhi. But it got the resolution watered down.

Because it had to engage with the Rajapaksa government to get the resettlement of thousands of displaced Tamils and their rehabilitation, pullout of troops so more civilians, whose property they were occupying, could go back home, India finally got the resolution adopted, however watered down it might have been.   

Karunanidhi glossed over it and claimed victory for his pressure tactics. Worse, he released to the media a copy of the resolution he planned to adopt in case India did not accede to his request. In that case the DMK would have said it quit the UPA government but would continue to extend outside support, “in order to keep communal forces at bay”. That became a greater joke than his farcical fast.

When he again raised the stakes on the eve of the current session of the UNHRC, the Congress did not take him seriously. Unlike the last time, he wanted India to take the initiative and move a resolution itself or support the US resolution after making it tougher through amendments. The sticky point was his insistence on the inclusion of his view that what happened in Sri Lanka was a genocide and a war crime and there should a credible, time-bound international investigation.

Forcing his hand, AIADMK general secretary and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha raised the stakes by writing to the prime minister, suggesting further amendments. She demanded that the resolution should include the findings of the UN  panel of experts, besides the Sri Lankan government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. The UN panel held both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE guilty of human rights violations. The Sri Lankan panel also called for investigation into specific cases of human rights violations while absolving the armed forces of a whole lot of blame.

Jayalalitha also wanted the condemnation of the Sri Lankan government’s failure to work out a political package in the last four years since the end of the war. Finally, she wanted “an independent, credible mechanism to prosecute those accused of war crimes before an international court”.

India should have made it clear to leaders like Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha taking hardline positions that it was impossible to pin down the Mahinda Rajapaksa government on charges of genocide which has a definitive connotation in international law when what had happened in Sri Lanka was a bloody civil war for over three decades in which civilians of hues -- Tamils, Sinhalese and Tamil-speaking Muslims -- had died. India should also have made it clear that it was not the practice in UNHRC to adopt country-specific resolutions as it might boomerang on us.

Finally, any resolution should be a consensus document as it has to get the support of members who have voting rights like Venezuela, Cuba etc who were against intrusive resolutions.

Instead the UPA government, famous for its silence, let the Tamil hardliners cry themselves hoarse. The result was the DMK’s pullout from the government. Having painted himself into a corner, there was no way Karunanidhi could wriggle out after Delhi’s emissaries AK Antony, P Chidambaram Ghulam Nabi Azad gave vague assurances and time was running with the UNHRC session due to end  in a couple of days.

And so it came about that Karunanidhi pulled the plug two days before the UNHRC was due to adopt the much talked about resolution. And Jayalalitha succeeded in driving a wedge between the Congress and the DMK by forcing his party out of power in New Delhi.

The Congress knew it was inevitable. In fact, the DMK and the Congress were looking for an excuse to dump each other ever since the 2G spectrum scam came into the open six years ago. It is not merely coincidental that the DMK has parted company with the Congress at a time when principal accused and former telecom minister A Raja, who is close to Karunanidhi and his daughter Kanimozhi, is bracing for the final battle, saying he was not alone in the scam and alleging that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too was involved.

The immediate priority of the Congress will be to shore up the UPA’s strength, now in a minority, by firming up the support of Mulayam Singh and Mayawati who have already been extending outside, issue-based support to the government. In any case, the next Lok Sabha elections are due by May 2014, just a year away. So the UPA has no big stakes in the government’s continuance.

The DMK will not be concerned about the next Lok Sabha elections, because it cannot switch over to the Bharatiya Janata Party now. The BJP itself will hesitate to touch the scam-tainted DMK.

For that matter, the DMK too will not regret parting company with the Congress as Karunanidhi knows that in this era of coalitions, it is impossible for the Congress-led government to seek a third term, given its track of record of scams. Even otherwise, the Congress has no base in Tamil Nadu where it has been out of power since 1967. 

The UPA government will continue so long as the BJP is not ready for mid-term elections. Already senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha has said in Parliament that the government has been reduced to a minority. All that is needed is for some party to move a no-confidence motion. Or for President Pranab Mukherjee to seek a vote of confidence once he receives letters from DMK MPs informing him about the withdrawal of support.

The happiest person at the turn of events will be Jayalalitha. Now that the DMK is isolated, she is free to slap more corruption cases, especially on Karunanidhi’s elder son MK Azhagari. Incidentally, the final push was given by his younger brother and much-touted prince-in-waiting M K Stalin.

Jaya reckons that in the next elections, whenever they are held, neither the UPA nor the NDA will get a majority and they will have to count on regional parties. Therefore, if she makes a clean sweep of all the 39 Lok Sabha seats, a tall order though, she can have a go the top job. After all, if HD Deve Gowda could become prime minister, why can’t she? Or so she believes.

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