Congress takes comfort in DMK smiles, for now

January 3, 2011

Smiles, handshakes and declarations of friendship abounded during a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi on Monday, as the investigation into a $39 billion telecoms scam that has centred on the Tamil Nadu party appeared to have been forgotten in favour of coalition camaraderie.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) speaks to Karunanidhi, President of DMK (Dravida Munetra Kazhagam) party during an election rally in the southern Indian city of Chennai May 4, 2006.  REUTERS/Babu
With parliament paralysed and DMK MP Andimuthu Raja sacked from his role as telecoms minister as a result of the scam, the last thing Singh needed was signs of dissent from a key member of his Congress party’s ruling coalition.

After appearing to snub the Prime Minister on his arrival on Sunday – choosing instead to “meet a poet” – Karunanidhi, also chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was all smiles during a 25-minute meeting, telling reporters afterwards that the relationship was “strong”.

Singh returned the favour, telling national broadcaster Doordarshan: “The alliance remains as strong as ever”.

It’s the first time that Singh has met Karunanidhi since raids by the Central Bureau of Investigation targeted the homes of Raja and other senior DMK politicians, and raided the non-governmental organisation in which Karunanidhi’s daughter is a director.

The sincerity of Karunanidhi’s smiles is crucial for the ruling Congress party.

Singh has pledged to appear before the Public Accounts Committee investigating the scandal in an attempt to end the parliamentary deadlock, but opposition politicians have continued their demands for a joint parliamentary committee probe.

And while reaching a compromise with the opposition is essential to get parliamentary business moving in the crucial upcoming budget session, maintaining the 18 votes that the DMK brings to the coalition is far more imperative for his government’s survival.

Monday’s interaction appeared to suggest all is well, but as the investigation into Raja’s alleged misdemeanours rolls on, how much more scrutiny and suspicion can Karunanidhi and his party stand before the smiles fade?

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