Threat to government a product of fertile imaginations: Singhvi
Even as the Congress dismissed the possibility of a threat to its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Monday, it bought time to try and resolve its differences with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), with the latter agreeing to postpone its decision to withdraw its six Ministers from the Union Cabinet by a day. The appointment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was rescheduled from Monday morning to the evening and then finally called off.
Shortly before the DMK's Ministers, including Dayanidhi Maran and M.K. Alagiri, were scheduled to meet Dr. Singh in the evening to hand over their resignations, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, after a discussion with Home Minister P. Chidambaram, telephoned DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi — for the second time on Monday — and sought another 24 hours to come back with the Congress' position on the critical question of seat-sharing, over which the talks broke down.
A Congress functionary later said the party was willing to accept the 60 seats the DMK was offering it, as long as it could choose a majority of those seats — the talks had apparently broken down because the DMK was not willing to accede to the Congress' demand for 63 seats.
The Congress won its respite at the end of a day of fast moving developments, which began with Mr. Mukherjee calling up Mr. Karunanidhi in the morning, with the request not to precipitate matters. This telephonic conversation, Congress sources said, came in the wake of a phone call the Finance Minister had made to DMK Parliamentary Party leader T.R. Baalu, late on Sunday night — the first official contact between the Congress and the DMK after the southern party announced its decision on Saturday to withdraw its Ministers from the UPA government. The Congress leader had wanted to speak to Mr. Karunanidhi on Sunday night, but by the time the call was put through, Congress sources said, the DMK supremo had retired for the day.
Scene of confabulations
Through the day, Parliament House was the scene of confabulations among senior Congress leaders, largely conducted in Mr. Mukherjee's office. Those who were part of the discussions were Mr. Mukherjee, Mr. Chidambaram, Union Health Minister and Congress general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu Ghulam Nabi Azad, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi's Political Secretary Ahmed Patel. Of the DMK leaders, Mr. Maran met these leaders. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Mukherjee met Ms. Gandhi separately to brief and consult her on the discussions.
Later, a Congress functionary said the party expected a solution to seat-sharing in Tamil Nadu could emerge by Tuesday, or latest by Wednesday. “Have you seen well-established alliances breaking up a fortnight before election campaigning is to start on an issue like the demand for three more seats? This is nothing more than hard bargaining for seats so natural in an alliance, just muscle flexing. It's not a major issue,” he said. He, however, added that if it was not resolved in the next few days, the alliance would be in jeopardy.
Earlier, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi described reports about a threat to the UPA government as the product of “fertile imaginations.” On the status of the relationship between the two parties, questions put to the leaders involved in the discussions elicited the same answer: “The talks are on.”