Sunday, March 6, 2011

UPA in crisis as DMK quits govt, dumps Congress

Chennai/New Delhi: Tamil Nadu's ruling DMK on Saturday ended its seven-year alliance with the Congress and pulled out of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government after running into roadblocks over seat sharing in assembly elections only a month away.

The dramatic decision, announced after a meeting of DMK leaders including Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, robbed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government of majority support in the Lok Sabha where the Congress-led UPA coalition will now have only 256 MPs -- less than the half-way 272.

But with the DMK saying it would still give "issue-based support", a stand similar to that of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress sources said there was no immediate danger to the UPA government.

The DMK move, however, took the Congress by surprise. One of its leaders, Satyavrat Chaturvedi, called the decision "sudden".

The DMK move followed the Congress insistence on contesting from 63 of Tamil Nadu's 234 assembly seats while a peeved DMK was willing to concede only 60.

As the Congress remained adamant and reportedly made it clear that it would also pick the 63 seats, Karunanidhi lashed out past Friday midnight, calling the Congress stand "unjustified".

At the Saturday evening meeting, DMK leaders voiced bitterness vis-a-vis the Congress and decided it was time to part ways with a party they had allied with since the 2004 Lok Sabha election. 

DMK leader and former central minister T.R. Baalu denied the decision was linked to the raging spectrum corruption scandal which led to the arrest of DMK's former communications minister A. Raja and to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raid on Karunanidhi's family-owned Kalaignar TV. 

A DMK statement said the Congress intransigence showed it was not keen on having it as an ally. "Hence we decided to pull out," it said. 

Baalu said the decision had been conveyed to Congress leaders in New Delhi. He added that the DMK's six ministers in the Manmohan Singh council of ministry would submit their resignation. 

The snapping of relations left the Congress high and dry in Tamil Nadu, where it had supported the Karunanidhi government for the past five years while taking DMK support for its government in Puducherry. 

With Tamil Nadu set to pick a new assembly April 13, the Congress is without a major ally in a state where politics continues to be dominated by the DMK and its arch rival, the AIADMK. 

Both the DMK and AIADMK have sewed up alliances with several smaller parties for the elections that will see a close contest. 

Some Congress leaders appeared to indicate earlier in the day that they expected the worst in Tamil Nadu. 

"(I hope) they don't break ties," central Health Minister and Congress in-charge for Tamil Nadu Ghulam Nabi Azad said in Jammu, a day after holding talks with DMK leaders in Chennai. 

Finance Minister and Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee admitted there were "problems" but asserted that "problems will be resolved". 

In an unusually sharp public attack on the Congress, with whose president Sonia Gandhi he has always enjoyed a close relationship, Karunanidhi said he initially wanted to give the Congress 51 seats to contest. 

He added that he increased the number to 53, then to 55, further to 58 and finally to 60.

But when the Congress scaled up its demand, he asked: "Is it practical for the Congress to demand 63 seats and expect them to be given?" 

Even after allocating 60 seats to the Congress, the DMK would be left with just 122 for itself. If it conceded 63, it would be left with just two over the halfway mark in the 234-member house. 

In the meantime, the AIADMK has signed seat-sharing agreements with six smaller parties, giving them 43 seats. It is expected to sign similar pacts with the two Left parties Sunday. 

The AIADMK also has an alliance with the DMDK of actor-turned-politician Vijayakant. DMK leaders feel this would prevent the AIADMK from embracing the Congress even at the last minute since it does not have excess seats to give away. 

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