As efforts went on through the day to see whether a resolution on the issue could be passed in Parliament to appease the DMK, and the Congress Core Group took stock of the situation, ministerial sources said that with or without the party’s 18 MPs, the government was stable: the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party both affirmed their continued support to the government on Tuesday, they said. Union finance minister P Chidambaram told journalists, “The government is stable and enjoys a majority in Lok Sabha. The government will continue.”
The numbers currently are stacked thus: without the DMK and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), the UPA total is 224. With the support of the SP (22), the BSP (21) and 24 other MPs, nine of whom are independents, the total is 291 in a House that currently has 540 members — there are four vacancies. The government currently requires 271 to continue, so it has a margin of 20.
But beyond the numbers, it became clear on Tuesday that not even the DMK is in a mood to pull down the government. Conversations with the party’s MPs revealed that it was the domestic compulsions of politics in Tamil Nadu that has forced it to withdraw support from the government: in the coming weeks, it does not even wish to oppose the slew of government-sponsored bills that will be coming up in this session. As for other political parties, including the principal opposition party, the BJP, no one appeared to be keen to push the government into an early election.
The DMK’s announcement on Tuesday came a day after three senior union ministers — P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad — flew to Chennai to placate Mr. Karunanidhi on the Sri Lankan issue. The DMK’s demand included a strongly worded resolution in Parliament, as well as India proposing amendments to the U.S.-sponsored UN resolution on similar lines.
The government’s party managers, led by Mr. Kamal Nath, have been working since Monday evening on mustering the numbers and on a possible resolution. But several Congress Ministers pointed out that any parliamentary resolution strong enough to satisfy the DMK would not get support from Opposition parties like the BJP. More importantly, they added, that whatever was said would have to be within India’s foreign policy framework.
While Congress Ministers pointed to Ms. Gandhi’s statement at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting as indication of the party’s empathy for the Sri Lankan Tamils, DMK MP T.K.S. Elangovan said that it had come “too late”.
Explaining his party’s position, he said, “The atmosphere in Tamil Nadu is too charged. It is a burning issue. We can’t afford to be isolated.” Stressing that there was no question of going back on the withdrawal unless the government succeeded in moving an amendment to the UN resolution to the DMK’s satisfaction, he also pointed out, “When the Union Ministers met Kalaignar on Monday in Chennai, they had nothing to offer.”
Asked about the trigger for the withdrawal of support on Tuesday after the Congress Ministers had said they would work on a resolution, DMK sources said that when Mr. Karunanidhi saw the “diluted version” of the draft UN resolution in the morning, it was the last straw for him.
This, of course, has not been the first instance of DMK brinkmanship: in the last few years, the Congress and the DMK have clashed on the issue of disinvestment, giving the telecom ministry to A. Raja and on sharing of seats for assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. And this is the second time relations between the two parties have soured on the Sri Lanka issue.