Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Congress, DMK edge closer to deal


New Delhi: The Congress party and DMK appeared closer to a deal to retain the ruling coalition's parliamentary majority on Tuesday after threats to quit the government sparked worries of political instability in the country.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has 18 seats and gives the ruling Congress a slim parliamentary majority. A pull-out would force Congress to look for other fickle allies or continue as a minority government dependent on conditional support from other parties.

The controversy, sparked by a disagreement over seats for a state election in April, was another blow for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is fighting a series of corruption scandals and high inflation that have weakened his government.

The coalition was not in danger of collapse even if the DMK ministers left because the party said it would continue to give conditional support to the government. But instability could hit any hopes of economic reforms.

Local media said there were signs that the two sides were closer to patching up as meetings were due to continue on Tuesday.

The intervention of Congress head Sonia Gandhi signalled a far greater intent for the ruling party to forge a consensus.

"This is nothing more than hard bargaining for seats so natural in an alliance, just muscle flexing. It's not a major issue," an unnamed Congress official told a newspaper.

The Congress could also seek support from other regional groups to boost its numbers in parliament, as few parties want to face an election more than three years ahead of schedule, including the main Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Analysts said it looked increasingly likely the Congress and the DMK would patch things up, as each was weaker without the other.

Singh's coalition has a majority of one, with 273 members in the 545-seat lower house of Parliament.
A political party based in the north has said it would consider supporting the coalition if it was approached.

Indian shares dropped 1.4 percent on Monday, with rate sensitive sectors contributing the most to losses, hit by political worries and surging crude oil prices.

DMK holds quit notice, parleys on with Congress


Chennai/New Delhi, March 7  In a breather for the Congress, Tamil Nadu's ruling DMK Monday decided to put on hold by a day its decision to quit the Manmohan Singh government following hectic negotiations between the two parties throughout the day. In the evening, two DMK central ministers met Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence.

Leaders of both parties admitted that they were holding talks at various levels to bridge their differences and, if possible, contest together the April 13 elections to the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly.

Congress leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi twice on the telephone while other Congress leaders met the DMK's central minister Dayanidhi Maran in New Delhi, said sources in both parties.

Tamil Nadu's Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said in Chennai that Mukherjee had requested the DMK to wait for one more day before taking a final call.

'We have decided to wait till tomorrow,' said Stalin, the younger son of the chief minister who played a key role in Saturday's dramatic DMK decision to pull out of the United Progressive Alliance government and to dump the Congress, its ally since 2004.

In the evening, DMK ministers Dayanidhi Maran and M.K. Alagiri met Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence.

Congress sources said that Maran and Alagiri met Gandhi in New Delhi in a bid to sort out the impasse over seat-sharing for the April 13 polls.

The meeting with Gandhi came after the DMK decided to put on hold till Tuesday its decision to withdraw all its six ministers, including Alagiri and Maran, from the union cabinet.

The sources said the two ministers carried a message from Karunanidhi for Gandhi.

The meeting came on a day of hectic consultation between the two parties following the DMK's decision Saturday to pull out its ministers from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government due to problems over seat-sharing for the assembly polls.

Speculation was rife that the Congress and the DMK might finally bury the hatchet -- with mutual give and take.
One view in the DMK is that the party would not give the Congress more than 60 seats to contest -- the number over which the breaking point came. Some, however, said that the DMK might relent and agree to the Congress demand for 63 seats, if necessary by taking away three seats from the PMK, its other ally.

Repeated attempts by IANS to reach PMK president G.K. Mani proved futile.

The DMK has six ministers in the Congress-led UPA government. Its decision to dump the Congress had left the latter high and dry ahead of the one-day election in Tamil Nadu where politics is still dominated by the DMK and its arch rival, the AIADMK.

In New Delhi, Congress leaders Mukherjee, Health Minister and Tamil Nadu in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the Congress president, met in the afternoon in the Parliament house to deliberate a possible compromise.

'I think the matter will be definitely sorted out by Wednesday. If it is not sorted out in a day or so, it will be worrying,' a senior Congress leader told IANS.

He said neither party can afford to prolong the impasse since the AIADMK-led alliance was itching to give a tough fight.

Some Congress sources, however, insist that the DMK muscle flexing had little to do with the seats in contention but was aimed at sidetracking investigations into the spectrum allocation scandal that has led to the arrest and jailing of former communications minister A. Raja of the DMK.

The DMK is also upset over the raids conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the office of Kalaignar TV, which is owned by the family of the chief minister, and hints that the CBI may now interrogate Karunanidhi's daughter and Rajya Sabha member K. Kanimozhi.

The DMK ministers were scheduled to meet Manmohan Singh at 6 p.m. Monday to tender their resignations.

The DMK has two cabinet ministers -- Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M.K. Alagiri and Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran - and four junior ministers - S.S. Palanimanickam (Finance), S. Jagathrakshakan (Information and Broadcasting), D. Napoleon (Social Justice and Empowerment) and S. Gandhiselvan (Health and Family Welfare) -- in the UPA government.

On Sunday, the Congress did not make any apparent moves to salvage the alliance. But the picture changed Monday.

DMK's Alagiri, Maran meet Sonia


New Delhi, March 7  Parleys between the Congress and DMK to keep their alliance together gathered pace Monday with DMK ministers Dayanidhi Maran and M.K. Alagiri meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence.

Congress sources said that Maran and Alagiri met Gandhi in a bid to sort out the impasse over seat sharing in the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly for the April 13 polls.

The meeting with Gandhi comes after the DMK decided to put on hold till Tuesday its decision to withdraw all its six ministers, including Alagiri and Maran, from the union cabinet.

The sources said the two ministers carried a message from DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for Gandhi.

The meeting came on a day of hectic consultation between the two parties following the DMK's decision Saturday to pull out its ministers from the United Progressive Alliance government due to problems over seat-sharing for the assembly polls.

Congress leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke to Karunanidhi twice on the telephone while other Congress leaders met Maran in New Delhi, said sources in both parties.