Raja gone, Amma plays Queen on the chessboard

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Out in the wilderness Political churning in Tamil Nadu hastened the exit of Raja from the Union Cabinet Photo: Shailendra Pandey
Out in the wilderness Political churning in Tamil Nadu hastened the exit of Raja from the Union Cabinet
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

WHILE RELUCTANTLY drafting his four-line resignation from the Union cabinet with regret, Andimuthu Raja must have been aware that this was the end of the political honeymoon between strange partners — a docile Congress and aggressive Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK).

It was AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa who made Operation Raja easy for the Congress. On 11 November, Jayalalithaa’s unconditional offer of support to the Prime Minister and the Congress turned the political tables against the then telecom minister. Lok Sabha arithmetic — the DMK has 18 MPs — had prolonged Raja’s stay in the ministry. But now the state Assembly election are coming up. Pranab Mukherjee, donning the mantle of fire-fighter as usual, found that Jayalalithaa, with her nine MPs, was an old friend in need. In fact, this is what emboldened the soft-spoken Mukherjee to say a big “No” when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi asked if his party could retain the telecom ministry after Raja’s exit. And with the opposition pillorying the Prime Minister for being a mute spectator to the 2G spectrum scam and the Supreme Court’s categorical criticism, the Congress leadership under Pranab Mukherjee’s stewardship has started scripting new political equations.

The AIADMK camp talks of a new buoyant mood in Tamil Nadu politics and hints at new political parleys going to take place in the near future. “Madam’s offer had a catalytic effect on the whole Raja episode,” Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan gloated. “Raja’s resignation is a victory for democracy. It is a victory for probity in public life and for the crusade against corruption.”

As far as Tamil politics is concerned, A Raja is a lightweight and carries no signature of his own. It’s a fact that DMK leader Karunanidhi is not in a position to retaliate or challenge the Congress leadership right now for dropping Raja. With the CBI probe, the Supreme Court monitoring the spectrum scam cases, demand for JPC probe and unrelenting opposition, the veteran DMK leader very well knows the tide has turned against him. Raja’s resignation hurts Karunanidhi and his daughter MK Kanimozhi, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, but they have to bear it silently as the state is heading for Assembly poll along with Kerala and West Bengal in May 2011.

After allying with the DMK for mere political survival, the Congress has realised of late that the party is a big liability. Rahul Gandhi sensed it when he toured Tamil Nadu and interacted with Youth Congress leaders. But then his focus was on shaping the youth brigade. So if the Congress wants a political ally to gift it a major victory in the 2011 Assembly poll, AIADMK is a natural choice. Then the Congress can dream big. But Sonia is yet to pardon Jayalalithaa. Their interpersonal problems can still block a smooth alliance between the Congress and the AIADMK.

As for the AIADMK, a close aide of Jayalalithaa says, “She is ready to forgive and forget. It is up to the Congress to decide whether it wants to continue its truck with the stinking DMK or make an easy political gain with Madam. We are open to offers.” His words are significant as Jayalalithaa needs a friendly central government if she is to rule Tamil Nadu. For that, she is ready to tempt the Congress with more than 80 seats in the Assembly elections and dump CPM in the dustbin of opportunistic alliances. But these offers and proposals change with time. That’s why they say a week is a long time in politics.

If the Congress snaps ties with the DMK, and does not go with Jayalalithaa, the party has the option of forming the third front with actor-turned politician Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murupokku Dravida Kazagham (DMDK), the fastest growing regional party, which garnered more than 10 percent voteshare in the last general election. With Vijayakanth, Congress can show a better performance and keep its dignity intact.

Jayalalithaa is prepared to tempt the Congress with more than 80 seats in the Assembly election

The DMK, though it has lost out at the Centre, will not be on the defensive in Tamil Nadu. Party MP and spokes person TKS Elangovan’s take on the debacle gives an indication of this. “Raja was asked to step down to clear the impasse in Parliament,” he says. “He followed government policy laid down in 1999 and norms and practices observed by his predecessors while awarding licences. It’s not that he swindled the money. This allocation has brought tremendous rewards for India.”

And the corruption taint is certainly one stick with which any party can beat the Congress. Elangovan asks ominously: “Will the Congress ask all its corrupt ministers to go?”


‘Our alliance with Congress is strong’

The Congress and the DMK have been steady partners after the latter kept UPA 2 on tenterhooks during cabinet formation after the 2009 election. Now the tables seem to be turning in the Congress’ favour. A resurgent Jayalalithaa has ensured that the Congress, if not won over, is at least engaged. And Sonia Gandhi is breaking protocol to talk about the return of Congress to power in Tamil Nadu. Even though the DMK would have wanted the Congress to stand by it on Raja, in the end it was a meek submission. The message though is clear: Raja is history, now it’s time to look at how the political equations play out in the state. Rajya Sabha member and Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi spoke to SAI MANISH on the impact of Raja’s resignation on the Congress-DMK alliance.

Photo: Martin Louis

How does Raja’s resignation change your equations with the Congress? Will you now ask for corrupt elements in the Congress to be shown the door?
The Congress and the DMK have allowed Raja to step down so that Parliament continues to function properly. Our alliance is strong and we are not blaming each other here, I don’t think this question arises at all.

But even after Raja’s resignation, Parliament was disrupted by the opposition?
Unfortunately, the entire issue is being politicised.

Don’t you think if the Congress and the DMK had put up a united face, things would have been different?
We wanted Parliament to function smoothly. But yes, we have to think about it.

But if the Congress had stood by you, couldn’t the impasse in Parliament have been solved in some other way?
The decision has been taken by both parties. There is no point in going over it again.

Would Raja be replaced by anyone from the DMK?
No, not now. Definitely not till the Parliament session is over.

Who will be the replacement? Will you be taking up a ministerial position if the party tells you to?
The DMK leader has not yet chosen anyone. I wouldn’t want to talk about my plans at the Centre as it is hypothetical.

With an eye on the upcoming poll, will you still continue to be coalition partners with the Congress?
As of now, we are coalition partners and it is a strong alliance. Whatever decision has to be taken has to be taken by the DMK leadership.

What did you discuss with Pranab Mukherjee when you met him just hours before Raja’s resignation?
I met him and a lot of other leaders in the Congress. We talked about our coalition and a lot of other issues.

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Bureau Chief, South

Jeemon Jacob has been a journalist for 26 years both in print and television, as of 2011. He was a Reuters Fellow and spent nine months in Oxford University as visiting scholar in 1994-95. He has headed the political bureau in New Delhi of the Rashtra Deepika group of publications and later joined News Express in Brunei Darussalam as Features Editor. He won the Statesman award for rural reporting in 1987 for his seven articles that exposed a brown sugar racket in Kumily, Kerala.

In 1990, he won the state award for best reporting and in 1992, his article on social alienation of people with HIV/AIDS won the prestigious PUCL Award for human rights reporting in 1992. Jeemon is a graduate in English Literature and Journalism and has exposed the corruption behind the DMK government’s allotting prime land to high court judges, senior civil servants, and the kith and kin of politicians under the government’s discretionary quota. He is based in Thiruvananthapuram.

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