India Insight

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.

India's Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks before giving the final touches to the annual budget for the railways in New Delhi February 24, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur

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.

Congress takes comfort in DMK smiles, for now

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”.

Too early to write off India’s Congress-led coalition

Is the sun setting on the Congress-led UPA government? India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is certainly riding high after victory in the southern state of Karnataka at the weekend , giving it a first chance to run a government in the south.Party workers of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) light smoke flares to celebrate the party’s victory in the state elections in Karnataka, outside the party’s headquarters in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA)And it’s the latest in a long losing streak for Congress in state elections. The question is whether the ruling party can turn things around.

The economy certainly isn’t helping. Rising inflation seems to have already wiped out whatever electoral benefits the farmers’ debt waiver might have brought. A slowdown in growth, already apparent in industrial production statistics, won’t help either.

So the first problem for the government is to bring down inflation in time for next year’s national polls.

  •