Spoke of DMK leader's attempted ‘blackmail' on Sri Lanka, warned that the Congress ‘will carry this grudge and retaliate at the right time'

Less than a month before he was accepted back in the DMK fold in 2008, DMK M.P. Dayanidhi Maran reportedly told an officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai that then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's resignation threat on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue was a “drama,” meant to distract attention from Tamil Nadu's power crisis and the resultant popular anger, and, further, that his attempt at ‘blackmail' had alienated Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

A cable sent to the State Department under the name of Consul General Andrew T. Simkin, and accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks (176372: unclassified, dated November 3, 2008), reported Mr. Maran's candid observations along with Congress leader Peter Alphonse's assessment of what the DMK would do in the prevailing uncertain situation.

According to the cable, Mr. Maran, who had been “stripped of his position as Union Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications by his grand-uncle Karunanidhi in 2007, agreed that the Chief Minister's resignation threat was an idle one. Maran called it a ‘drama' staged by Karunanidhi, noting that he too tendered his resignation despite his estrangement from the Chief Minister. Maran said that Karunanidhi's main objective was to distract attention from the state's recent power outages, which have increased anger against the incumbent government to an all-time high.”

Mr. Maran, the consulate cable reported, “claimed Karunanidhi's attempt at ‘blackmail' has alienated the Congress high command, especially Sonia Gandhi. According to Maran, who despite having an axe to grind with Karunanidhi remains publicly loyal to the Chief Minister, Congress ‘will carry this grudge and retaliate at the right time.' As evidence of the hurt feelings, Maran alleged that Sonia Gandhi recently refused to meet with Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi, who is a DMK Member of Parliament. Maran also said that a faction of the Congress Party leadership, including Rahul Gandhi, wishes to see Tamil Tiger chief Prabhakaran dead in retaliation for killing Rajiv Gandhi, which drives a wedge between Congress and the DMK over Sri Lanka.”

The cable set out the intriguing context in which these assessments were provided by the estranged DMK MP, who is currently Union Minister for Textiles, and the Congress leader, who was defeated in the recent State Assembly election by an AIADMK candidate. Tamil Nadu Members of Parliament had agreed at an ‘all-party meeting' on October 14, 2008 chaired by Mr. Karunanidhi “to resign en masse if the Government of India failed to force a ceasefire in Sri Lanka by October 28.” However, two days before the deadline, the DMK Chief Minister backed down following a visit from External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The visit, “coupled with several other actions by the central government – including summoning the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, engaging with Sri Lanka's Special Envoy, and agreeing to send humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka's Tamils – appear[ed] to have mollified Karunanidhi,” who agreed to defer the decision. The cable added that the DMK Chief Minister, who acknowledged that “this issue has been going on for 40 years” and “we cannot expect it to be resolved in four days,” announced a day later “that the DMK had no difference of opinion with the Union Government on the Sri Lanka issue.”

Mr. Alphonse's take on what was happening, according to the Chennai consulate cable, was that “Karunanidhi would never have pulled the MPs from the UPA.” He just “wanted to show-up his political opponents who expected the all-party meeting to be a routine one issuing a typical, toothless hortatory resolution.” The Congress leader's view was that “the DMK has no option but to stick with the UPA and the Congress.”

Mr. Alphonse, however, conceded that “the resignation threat has put stress on an otherwise strong relationship between the DMK and Congress” because “at the local level…the Tamil Nadu Congress was irritated that Karunanidhi appeared to be slipping back into his past tendency to be ‘soft' on the terrorist Tamil Tigers and the small Tamil Nadu political parties that support them.”

Helped no doubt by these realpolitik assessments, the Chennai consulate sent the State Department an overall comment that proved to be accurate: “Karunanidhi's DMK and Congress are bound together by mutual self-interest. Karunanidhi needs Congress to remain Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and Congress relies on the DMK to keep the UPA in power in New Delhi. As a result, it is no surprise that the political drama Karunanidhi generated quietly concluded with no resignations after the Indian government took sufficient steps to give him enough political cover to save face…Support for the Sri Lankan Tamils has not become a burning issue with the public in Tamil Nadu…The legacy of revulsion over Rajiv Gandhi's assassination continues to loom large over Tamil Nadu.”