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.

Jury still out on Indo-U.S. “unclear” deal

US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …You could be forgiven for thinking that the civilian nuclear deal with the United States is all about whether India holds early elections or not.

Every newspaper is speculating if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has staked his personal reputation on the deal, will resign to disassociate himself from an administration that failed to save a pact keenly watched by the world.

But are these the arguments India should be debating in the short-term or should we be discussing the real benefits and drawbacks of the deal?

Where there is smoke in Congress — is there fire?

Sonia Gandhi at Bangalore rallyMurmurs of discontent have risen in some ranks of the ruling Congress about the influence of the Gandhi dynasty in the party.

Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh criticised last week how decision-making within Congress was made in a “narrow context” — meaning the Gandhis. He quickly backtracked by swearing loyalty to the family, but only after being publicly snubbed by Sonia Gandhi.

This came amid a controversy over Rahul Gandhi’s very public trips around India — leading to him being called “Crown Prince”. Some said he was overshadowing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.