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DMK frustrates Congress' hopes, for now

By V. Jayanth

CHENNAI, FEB. 26 . The recent controversy over a possible coalition Government in Tamil Nadu after the next Assembly elections has again demonstrated the hold of the regional ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) over the Congress high command. Consequently, the Congress seniors in New Delhi, have put paid to the hopes of the state leaders, at least for now.

But the local leaders are tired of waiting for the opportunity to think and act big — to reorient the party's functioning so that it can get on the revival mode as soon as possible. A former TNCC president regrets that the AICC thinks of the state unit only at the time of elections and even then decisions are made in Delhi and the local leadership is merely asked to dot the `i's and cross the `t's. Since losing power in 1967, the Congress in Tamil Nadu has never been able to take the highway back to power and the high command appears satisfied with "riding piggyback" on one of the Dravidian parties. The objective seems to have been to win at least 10 seats to the Lok Sabha. In the process, the performance or future in the state legislature has faded out of focus. That is the complaint of the state functionaries and legislators.

In the latest controversy, the Union Minister, E.V.K.S. Elangovan, fired the salvo a week ago about the need for a coalition in the State and how the Congress must demand a share in power with the DMK, if the alliance wins the next Assembly election. That was bad enough for the DMK but Thursday's meeting and Mr. Elangovan's chat with the media made it worse. He not only took the coalition theme forward but reportedly took pot shots at the DMK leadership. That irked the Dravidian ally and contact was made with the Congress high command to ascertain its stand on the issue.

And the AICC acted swiftly and decisively, distancing itself from the voices of the TNCC functionaries and virtually disowning the demand for a coalition. This has hurt the party leaders here. But a district president of the Congress here argues, "They can silence union ministers and TNCC presidents, but not the cadre. What Mr. Elangovan aired were the views of party men and we will raise that voice again and again. Look at the way that the DMK Ministers are taking care of the party and its cadre. Take the port trusts in the country — they are packed with DMK nominees. Take the list of government standing counsel — they are loaded with party lawyers. What has the Congress done to its cadre and sincere workers," he asks. Unless the party begins with being a part of a coalition, it cannot dream of returning to power. The AICC should not give up the future of the party here for immediate gains, he reasoned.

DMK seniors argue that the "orchestration" was becoming too strong to ignore. "The Congress must remember that Tamil Nadu is our base. We cannot give up our ambitions or position here. We cannot talk of a coalition one year ahead of an election. If the DMK is leading the alliance, it must have its own numbers. Other partners in the alliance realise and accept the fact that our first objective must be to defeat the ruling AIADMK, not pick a quarrel amongst ourselves. More than anything, we were upset to hear such words from Mr. Elangovan. That is all I can say for now," explains a senior leader.

Now that the high-power committee of the DMK is meeting on Sunday, it remains to be seen if the issue will be laid to rest for now, or a clear and formal message will be delivered to the Congress — after the informal exchange of views on Friday. The DMK's union ministers are expected to attend this crucial meeting. The crisis may have blown over but has scarred the relationship, at least in Chennai.

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