Debating India

The Chennai blackmail

Wednesday 26 May 2004

By resorting to sulks, the DMK has blotted its reputation for being a mature ally.

The politics of sulking that resulted in that famous stand off between M. Karunanidhi’s Seven and New Delhi over portfolio allocation indicates that the new government may be “progressive”, but it certainly does not appear “united” at the moment. And no government riven by warring interests can hope to inspire the trust and confidence of its citizens. By choosing to go the way of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan - as indeed J. Jayalalithaa in times past - the DMK has not just severely embarrassed the Manmohan Singh government, it has blotted its own reputation of being a mature coalitional partner in New Delhi.

True, the immediate crisis has blown over because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was spooked into conceding all the DMK’s demands. But this is certainly not a case of all’s well ending well, because it signals three distressing trends. One, that this is a government that appears pitifully vulnerable to the blackmailing threats of its smaller constituents. The Congress Party’s allies in government didn’t think twice about flashing documents of behind-the-scenes negotiations before national cameras and casting aspersions on the process of decision making at the highest levels. Two, that there is already a tendency to rush to Sonia Gandhi as the “higher authority”, which does little to buttress the authority of the primeministerial office. Dayanidhi Maran, for instance, revealed that the “crisis” had been “resolved with the timely intervention of the Congress president”. Three, that pre-coalition bonds have already started exerting themselves. Notice how the PMK supremo, S. Ramadoss, was quick to publicly observe that the Congress should have honoured its commitments to the DMK.

The point is that in constituting his team, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was well within his rights to fine-tune some of the early commitments made by intermediaries, for factors that may range from propriety to exigency. For instance, to have the minister holding the revenue department portfolio come from the same state as the Union finance minister does not send out the right signal. Besides, there is a perception that the DMK’s truculence over portfolio allocation is inspired not so much by national interest, as its own politics of settling scores with J. Jayalalithaa. If that is indeed the case, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is certainly in for some uncomfortable times, unless he learns to draw the line.

See online : The Express

P.S.

in The Express, Wednesday, May 26, 2004.

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