Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sonia Gandhi takes exception to DMK brinkmanship

NEW DELHI/CHENNAI: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday expressed displeasure over DMK's brinkmanship, telling M Karunanidhi's emissaries that the party's behaviour had been discourteous. 

The plainspeak came even as the sides appeared to be clawing towards a pact, though hurdles remain on Congress's demand to pick the constituencies it wants to contest. 

Sources said Sonia expressed her peeve when Union ministers M K Alagiri and Dayanidhi Maran visited her late on Monday evening as part of efforts to wrap up the seat-sharing talks which tensed the ties to the point of break-up. 

Sources said the Congress president, while being polite, told her visitors that the talks being held now could have been held earlier. Instead, DMK people chose to go public on the differences, sources quoted Sonia as telling the DMK ministers in a clear reference to DMK's threat to pull out its ministers from the Manmohan Singh government. She underlined to her visitors that Congress had been accommodating DMK's political demands all the while. 

DMK's top decision-making body had on Saturday passed a resolution to pull out of the central government, blaming its decision what it called Congress's desire to push it out of the ruling coalition. 

DMK sources said the Congress chief did not get into the details of seat-sharing, stressing that she was more concerned about coalition courtesies. 

Sonia's decision to meet the two DMK ministers, particularly Alagiri who has been playing hardball, was interpreted as signalling a breakthrough. Although she is not the last word on alliances, she does not get into the nitty-gritties of seats 

Congress likely to scale down seat demand 

That she chose to focus on coalition manners and not on Congress's claims in her meeting with the DMK duo kept the issue hanging. Sources said differences between the two sides had come down to 6 seats. Congress is still sticking to its demand for 63 seats, but indications are that it may agree to scale down the demand. Congress has been insisting to chose the dozen seats that it will contest over and above its share of 48 in 2006 polls.DMK has offered that Congress could choose six of those. 

The evening meeting followed day-long confabulations between the two sides. The ice was broken on Sunday night itself when Congress's troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee established contact with DMK leadership, giving Karunanidhi room to re-engage with Congress. 

Mukherjee contacted Karunanidhi on Monday morning, leading the DMK ministers to put off their plans to pull out of the government. 

The ministers who to visit PMO at 6.30 pm were told by leadership to put off the plan by a day because, Karunanidhi's son M K Stalin claimed in Chennai, Congress had sought more time. 

The six DMK ministers in Manmohan Singh government met in the capital at the residence of Madurai strongman MK Alagiri to hammer out strategy. It was felt that Congress could take six constituencies of its choice while DMK could make that choice for ally in remaining six. Congress too sought one seat more than the tally of 60 to keep its pride intact in the bare knuckle bargaining. 

The DMK patriarch, controlling manoeuvres from Chennai, found his son Alagiri take the hardline of dumping the Congress but preferred the discretion of his younger son MK Stalin. He nominated textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran as the interlocutor with Congress heads in clear signals that he was keen to salvage the alliance after the Saturday night brinkmanship. 

DMK retained its pride because it was Pranab Mukherjee who reestablished the communication with a latenight call to DMK leadership and followed it up with another on Monday. Karunanidhi tried to impress upon Congress his predicament after delimitation because many of DMK's strong constituencies have got split.

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