Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Now it’s the Drama Munnetra Kazhagam’s – sorry DMK’s – turn for drama….

As widely expected, the DMK yesterday withdrew support to the UPA government under the pretext that the government was not being tough enough on Sri Lanka. Why do I call it a pretext? Because it is just that. The real reason is something different. It is to counter Jayalalitha’s attacks on the party that it didn’t care for Tamilians. As usual, it is local, petty, state-level politics that is being played out at the national level. But can the DMK really pull off its threat? In my opinion, it cannot. The DMK’s latest drama is just another case of a petulant child throwing a tantrum – and as always happens, this child also will be silenced with a candy.

Actually, even a candy may not be required. The DMK is really in no position to go ahead with its threat. If it were to force early elections on the country, it would lose very badly in TN and become even more marginalized. How can it forget the rout in suffered in the state elections in 2011? I doubt if the mood in the state (notorious though it is for replacing its government every five years) has changed so much that the DMK can fancy itself benefitting from early elections. In my mind, even retaining its 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha will be difficult. Besides, in the Rajya Sabha as well, it is slated to lose clout with 2 of its MPs retiring in July 2013 and another 2 in April 2014 (that’s 4 out of 7 that it has). Given the AIADMK’s strength in the TN legislative assembly (203 seats to DMK’s 31), it is unlikely that the party will manage to get any of these Rajya Sabha members re-elected. If the DMK has to stay relevant, it will have to hold on to whatever it has right now and wait for the anti-incumbency against Jayalalitha to deepen in the next year. That is a more surer bet for the DMK to coming back to power than fighting for the cause of Tamilians in Sri Lanka.

It’s not like the Congress has not indulged the DMK enough in the last few years. The Congress has had a lot of grief thanks to the DMK. The whole 2G “scam” (if it can be called that; in my view the Rs 1.76 lac crores comedy figure was not a scam at all – it was a kind of “telecom subsidy” for the poor, just like fuel, fertilizer and food subsidies; Raja’s “last mile” corruption though looks more plausible) was wreaked on the UPA by the DMK. It is Raja – who reportedly has personal ties with Karunanidhi’s family (some even call him Kanimozhi’s paramour) – who is the primary accused in the corruption charges. It is Raja who first refused to quit (taking advantage of the strength his party has thanks to coalition politics) but later had to go to jail. The Congress stood by Raja and the DMK all throughout (not that it could afford to dump it). Later, it was Dayanidhi Maran who embarrassed the UPA with his unstoppable penchant for mixing political power with business interests. The DMK has gained a lot from being a part of this coalition; managing to protect itself to whatever extent possible. It is not about to give all this up anytime soon. If politics is about emotions, it is as much about cold calculations. Right now, it is the turn of the emotions; in a few days, the cold calculations will return.

The DMK saga has however given another opportunity to the opposition to rant against the Congress. The BJP found it cozy to needle the Congress (its primary target) and said that the DMK realizes the Congress is a sinking ship and hence is jumping out. And that the government is already in the ICU. Well, the problem for the BJP is that it suffers from the “crying wolf” syndrome – if we trace the BJP’s statements on the Congress’s condition since UPA-2 started (maybe even since UPA-1 started), it is clear that the party has been saying the same thing from the beginning! The truth is that the BJP is not sure where it stands. It has no presence in the state; so it has nothing to gain or lose. Its only wish is to embarrass the Congress. When pushed by Rajdeep Sardesai, the BJP’s Nirmala Seetharaman refused to answer why the BJP was not moving a no-confidence motion against the UPA government. Her only answer: The government will fall on its own! Clearly, the BJP itself has no confidence in its own no confidence motion.

The TMC’s Derek O’brien couldn’t contain his enormous happiness at the “plight” (in my opinion, no plight at all) of the UPA and took the opportunity to attack the party. The Congress doesn’t know how to handle allies….blah blah blah. Derek also has this unique god gifted ability of knowing the future, and he has predicted that the Congress will get routed in 2014. As if his party will survive!

One of the more common refrains (taunts really) in media – this time from the redoubtable Barkha Dutt – was whether the Congress was driven by its urge to survive its term. I think this is a wrong question to ask. Because there is nothing wrong in any government trying to survive its term. The government owes it to the people to try everything under the sun to ensure its stability. If every government started quitting every 2nd month (since such crises develop every 2nd month in India!), there would be no options left in no time. And what are we saying here? That the NDA would have behaved differently if they were in power? That they wouldn’t have tried to protect their government? Balderdash!

One of the comforting factors for the UPA will be the situation in UP. The SP is suddenly not that sure about its popularity in the state – considering how much criticism it’s government there has received in the last one year. At the same time, the BSP would like the situation to crystallize a little more against the SP. So both parties are on tenterhooks, none wanting to go in for immediate elections. Not surprising then that both rushed to clarify that the government would not fall even if the DMK withdrew support. This is probably what gave the Congress (both Kamal Nath and Satyavrat Chaturvedi) so much confidence about its survival.

But politics aside, it would be better if India cut Sri Lanka a little slack in the UN, while putting pressure in bilateral talks. The country’s long term interest would dictate this approach. For some strange reason, Subramaniam Swamy is actually talking sense this time – the only one to do so mind you! And he’s breaking ranks with the BJP, his party of choice, and Jayalalitha, whose lapdog he is.

The real truth is that we should expect more such drama in the run up to the general elections. But its just drama, nothing else. In my opinion, the government will survive its full term. Elections may be advanced by a few months (maybe early 2013), but it is unlikely that elections will happen now or even in the next few months….

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