Intense brinkmanship is on the cards between the Congress and the DMK over telecom minister A Raja's continuation in the Union cabinet.
A belligerent Opposition and the Supreme Court and the comptroller and auditor general's adverse notice in the 2G spectrum case have made Raja's presence hugely untenable in the government. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cannot remove him on his own volition. Or else he would've been out way back in June this year.
The PM then had put the plan on hold for want of DMK chief Karunanidhi's consent who thought Raja was targeted for being a Dalit. Strange logic, but that's how coalitions work and regional allies behave with national parties running governments with their support. The Congress is facing it now; the BJP got a taste of it earlier.
Aware as it is of the Congress's limitations and Singh's inability to unilaterally sack the nominee of an alliance partner, the BJP's going all guns blazing after the PM. That Karunanidhi could have his way is a bit incongruous, especially when his minority regime in Tamil Nadu survives on the Congress's support from outside. The choice before him now is to either keep Raja or the Congress. Will the ultimatum be conveyed in as many words to the DMK chief who's unrelenting in his defence of the tainted minister?
That isn't the PM's or Sonia Gandhi's talking style. But in politics, all's fair when the choice is between sudden death and a life of infamy.
Jayalalithaa's offer to replace the DMK in the UPA looks more of a trap. Even if she's serious, the Congress isn't about to set up shop with her, the sorry experience of 1999 still fresh in its institutional memory.
Regardless of his stout defence of Raja, the Congress considers the DMK boss a reliable ally who is "amenable to reason." But the Jaya factor could come in handy to soften him up if he continues to play truant. In all probability, the PM, not Sonia, will talk to Karunanidhi over the weekend. He'd be urged to emulate the Congress that has axed the scam-smeared Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi. As the logjam shows the PM helpless in checking corruption, Raja's removal has to be prompt, what with the SC hearing on a 2G-related PIL slated next week when the CAG report shall also reach Parliament.
For the Congress-led UPA, it's a do or drown situation. The DMK on the other hand can easily ask Raja to step down in favour of another leader - Dayanidhi Maran, TR Baalu or Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi who's the telecom minister's most dialled number in the Karunanidhi household.