Telecom minister A Raja’s resignation after days of defiance signals the first capitulation of DMK chief M Karunanidhi before the Congress. Whenever his party has been part of a central coalition earlier, the southern strongman has always had his way.
The Congress, for the first time, managed to extend its diktat to its allies on the issue of corruption, after having taken the high moral ground by axing Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan (for Adarsh scam) and stripping Suresh Kalamadi of Congress parliamentary party post.
This, by itself, is the most significant impact on the coalition politics, Congress and DMK leaders said. Both, during the formation of UPA-I and UPA-II, the DMK had managed to force the Congress leadership to part with portfolios.
But, with Raja’s exit, the Congress had conveyed to its allies that when it came to the image of the UPA government, it would not brook defiance in the face of serious “perceptional” problem regarding any representative from its partners.
With the record left behind by Raja, Karunanidhi may not be able even to insist on the portfolio of telecom to be retained by his party, DMK officials added.
Karunandhi, 85, decided to blink after the Congress leadership conveyed through Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that Raja’s continuation in office was not “conducive” to conduct normal business in Parliament.
Mukherjee’s call to Karunanidhi early in the day came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders discussed the crisis– the first since the PM return from abroad Saturday evening.
Raja was his blue-eyed boy but Karunanidhi read the writing on the wall after Mukherjee’s call, realizing that further disregard of the Congress’ missive would jeopardize the alliance as well as support of its MLAs in Tamil Nadu, upon which his government survives.
What clinched matters against Raja, DMK sources said, was that Karunanidhi did not want to take “chances” with the Congress after he was “disturbed” b y AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s dramatic offer to garner support of 18 MPs to replace the DMK’s 18 in the Lok Sabha.
Though the Congress had cold shouldered Jayalalithaa’s offer, Karunanidhi was apprehensive that Raja’s continuation risked irritation and a rift growing between the DMK and the Congress, which might be tempted to consider other options for the next assembly polls. Already, some Congress leaders had been egging AICC general secretary Rahu Gandhi to chart an independent course in Tamil Nadu and even attempt to lead a “third front” by aligning with a smaller party like “Captain” Vijaykanth’s DMDK.
“Without an alliance with the Congress, Karunanidhi realizes that the DMK’s bid to return to power was in deep trouble as the rainbow grouping of parties was bound to collapse,” said a DMK official.
Raja’s statement after his resignation that “my leader asked me to quit to avoid embarrassment for the government” underscored Karunanidhi’s bid to convey to the Congress that he had “sacrificed” a Dalit leader close to his family—for the sake of the six-year-old alliance.