The Congress has just five MLAs each in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, but it has not allowed its meagre resources in these two key States to dampen its enthusiasm. First, the party helped Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar win his vote of confidence on June 19 after the Janata Dal (United) broke off with the BJP, its partner of 17 years; now, it has announced it will support DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi’s daughter, Kanimozhi, in her bid to win a Rajya Sabha seat.
The Congress’s official line after Mr. Kumar’s triumph on the floor of the Assembly was that its goodwill gesture should not be “over-interpreted” as it only wanted to make the point that all secular forces should come together: it was a celebration of the shrinking of the BJP-led NDA. On Wednesday, it made virtually the same point on Tamil Nadu. “There is no need to read too much into our support to the DMK,” Congress spokesman Sandeep Dikshit said, when asked whether this overture meant that his party could once again join forces with the DMK for next year’s general elections.
Indeed, ahead of 2014, as the Congress draws up its strategy to maximise its electoral score, it has once again embarked on making friends and influencing people. In Bihar, the Congress has made it plain that it will assess the political impact of the JD(U)-BJP split on Mr. Kumar’s party as well as whether the fortunes of Lalu Prasad’s RJD are improving or not. As things stand, the RJD supports the UPA from outside and the JD(U) and the Congress are now “friends,” as Bihar awaits the benediction of “special status” from the Centre.
Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, Congress sources said since it was unlikely that the party would team up with the AIADMK, it made sense to back the DMK’s candidature. Interestingly, this comes within months of the DMK ending a nine year-long partnership with the Congress in March this year on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue.
Mr. Dikshit, when pressed to explain whether the Congress’s support to the DMK meant endorsement of the 2G scam since Ms. Kanimozhi is an accused in the case who is now out on bail, simply said, “Our support is to the DMK, not to an individual.” Of course, when pressed, he said that since Ms. Kanimozhi had not yet been indicted by the courts, she could not be regarded as guilty just yet.
These gestures, Congress sources said, the party hoped would also help it in the closing months of the current Lok Sabha as well: the ruling UPA needs all the support it can get to enact several key laws, including the pending food security Bill, the land acquisition Bill and the Lokpal Bill.
Of course, party functionaries, pressed on whether there will be electoral tie-ups in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, all say that their task is to strengthen the party in these States — the job of deciding alliances has been left to the Antony committee. One section in the party, led by vice-president Rahul Gandhi, believes that each time it enters into an electoral arrangement with another party, its chances of building its own strength diminishes. On the other hand is the compulsion of winning elections.
While the Congress is willing to do business with the parties in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, it does not seem as inclined to renew its on-again, off-again relationship with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. There is a sense in the party that with or without an alliance in West Bengal, its Lok Sabha score will remain steady at its current six, as the Congress is strong in three northern districts.