NEW DELHI. The DMK blinked on Tuesday, giving in to the Congress's demand for 63 seats hours after Sonia Gandhi stunned the Dravidian partner into submission by shrugging off its threat to withdraw from the government with a bluntspeak on coalition dharma.
"I don't care whether this government lives or goes," the Congress chief is learnt to have told DMK ministers M K Alagiri and Dayanidhi Maran late on Monday night, making it clear that she was not fazed by Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi's threat to pull out. The rebuke, reported by TOI on Monday, cleared the way for the DMK's climbdown.
With the two sides engaged in tough bargaining, Karunanidhi suddenly ramped up the pressure on Saturday, accusing the Congress of trying to push his party out of the UPA. He said the six Union ministers from the DMK would put in their papers on Monday. If it was meant to be a pressure tactic, the resignation threat seems to have boomeranged—it only provoked Sonia's ire.
"It is not a question of seats. It is not a question of my prestige. The prestige of the Indian National Congress has been hurt," the Congress chief is learnt to have told Karunanidhi's interlocutors on Saturday.
She wondered how an ally could be so rude to a party which has always played fair. She also told Alagiri and Maran, as reported by TOI on Monday, that the DMK's conduct was violative of coalition manners, stressing that the Congress had all along been accommodative of the southern party's political demands. Further, she is reported to have said the fact that the DMK was back at the negotiating table underscored the futility of Saturday's aggression.
Sonia's toughness defined her party's stance during the "seat-to-seat" combat between the allies on Tuesday, with the Congress refusing to yield on its demand for 63 seats. It did not relent even when the DMK pointed to its compulsion of having to accommodate other allies like the PMK and the Muslim League. The Congress side, represented by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sonia's political secretary Ahmed Patel, is learnt to have shrugged it off as the DMK's concern. The two sides, however, agreed to mutually identify the seats the Congress will contest. On the issue of power-sharing, the Congress agreed that a formal announcement could be made after the polls.
Sonia's assertiveness—a stark contrast from PM Manmohan Singh's recent invocation of coalition compulsions—must have come as a shock to the DMK. The Congress chief rarely gets into the complexities of seat-sharing, leaving the task to her trusted colleagues. So, when she agreed to meet the DMK ministers, particularly Alagiri who had taken a hard line on Congress's demand, they must have felt that the Congress may have softened on its initial resoluteness. They certainly would not have bargained for the bluntspeak on coalition dharma.
Not that all of the "we don't care" attitude was plain death-over-disgrace machismo. The Congress realized that the DMK was vulnerable to counter-aggression. Also, the party would be loathe to go without the Congress, which has a good 8% vote, against the AIADMK-Vijayakanth combo in the wake of the 2G spectrum controversy. Moreover, allies like the PMK and the VCK would also see the DMK alliance as weak without the Congress and prevail upon the DMK to keep the national party in. The increase in the Congress tally of three seats will be compensated by one each from the kitty of the DMK, PMK and the Muslim League.