Out of the DMK frying pan and into Mamata’s fire for Congress
Fresh from negotiating the continued support of one key coalition ally, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party heavyweights must now tackle the demands of the more politically canny and locally powerful Mamata Banerjee.
As the bleary eyes of Congress negotiators turned over the morning papers on Wednesday after almost two days of political horse-trading with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the relief of front page headlines declaring the Tamil Nadu party’s climbdown will have been cut short by the ominous presence of Banerjee and her own seat-sharing demands in the political minefield of West Bengal.
Banerjee, Railways Minister and leader of the opposition in West Bengal, is commonly referred to as “Didi” – Hindi for elder sister – and can often appear to be spearheading a one-woman party.
Negotiations with the Trinamool Congress, with the savvy Banerjee courting a burning desire to end 34 years of Left Front rule in the state, and sensing a weakened Congress party that needs to balance a continued parliamentary majority with a strong performance in the state elections, may make the talks with the DMK look like a cakewalk.
As with the Tamil Nadu party, the simmering feud with Trinamool, which contributes 19 seats to the Congress-led coalition, comes down to seat-sharing in April’s state election. Banerjee has reportedly rejected demands from Congress to allow it to contest more seats than she is currently offering.
Banerjee’s current position- described as a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer – of 58 seats for Congress to contest, is short of the 98 demanded by Congress officials in the state. 294 seats will be up for election next month.
Central Congress figures have talked of 70-75 seats as an acceptable compromise, and while there are noises of Congress going it alone come April 18 – murmurs that also circulated during the DMK stand-off – most expect a deal to be hammered out soon.
Congress, seemingly weakened by the trials and tribulations of appeasing all players in its fragile coalition, has mooted plans of making inroads in states traditionally held by regional parties, with the hope of forming a majority single-party government at the 2014 election.
With its two most powerful allies threatening cabinet resignations and offering no-compromise seat agreements within days of each other, perhaps ensuring the stability of the current government should be priority number one.