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Off The Reservation

Is the Cong-DMK story over, and is the BJP ready for a scrap?

Off The Reservation
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Off The Reservation
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On the last day of Parliament’s barren winter session, a senior BJP leader was having an off-the-record conversation with a few journalists. Post-Radiagate, he said the political chemistry in Delhi had altered. “At least, we can now see the kursi at a distance...till now it wasn’t even in our sights....” As for the Congress, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown! From spectrum to the Radia tapes, the grand old party finds itself in the midst of an almighty mess. What’s worse for the ruling establishment, every step taken to get itself out has it slipping further into the mire.

What really spells trouble is that the spectrum chickens are going home to roost. In this instance, to Tamil Nadu where the CBI conducted raids last week on the offices of sacked telecom minister A. Raja, his relatives and on an NGO associated with Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK boss M. Karunanidhi, among others. The CBI, incidentally, comes under the pmo—so a go-ahead for raids on a crucial component of the UPA alliance has to be seen as a political signal. Sources say the party leadership now believes it must be seen to do the right thing.

A pensive Kanimozhi
More significantly, the Congress leadership has calculated that the DMK will not do anything rash at this stage, like pulling out support, as it faces assembly polls in four months. As things stand, right now the scale is somewhat tilted in favour of the Congress. For if the 24 MLAs of the Congress withdraw support to the government in Tamil Nadu, it would fall and the DMK would have to face an assembly poll without the advantage of being in power. Given the blood feud with the AIADMK, that is a prospect the DMK would not relish. The latter is also aware that the Congress’s Tamil Nadu unit is in favour of a tie-up with the AIADMK. A final call on the issue has not been taken.

So will the Manmohan Singh government take a calculated risk, dump the DMK to save face? Sources say there are risks with this strategy and great doubts over whether it’s just too late to save face. There are over three years to go for the next Lok Sabha elections and the DMK with 18 MPs is critical to stability. However, the numbers can be made up with the AIADMK’s nine and the support of smaller parties like the RLD and JD(S). Besides, the SP with 22 MPs is also there in the wings. Even then, the Congress may not move. As a senior party leader put it, “The DMK has ripped us all off but the AIADMK is surely capable of doing that and more...Jayalalitha is more difficult to handle than all the Kanimozhis and Karunanidhis put together.” So the Congress is treading cautiously. Janardhan Dwivedi, the party’s media in-charge, tried to delink the raids from the DMK-Congress relationship. “We trust our allies and the trust is mutual,” he said. But if history is any reckoner, it’s obvious that no one trusts anyone in politics—the game is all about opportunity. The NDA certainly senses one, which is why old warhorse L.K. Advani was suddenly fielded to  attack the government and the prime minister last week.

That said, after stalling the entire winter session of Parliament and chalking out a schedule for countrywide street agitations on corruption through December, the raids on  Niira Radia and DMK associates initially took the BJP by surprise. The entire political class is unsure of what will come spilling out of these raids and the BJP certainly lives in its own glass house. For instance, the corruption agitations are to take place everywhere but in Karnataka. Initially, the BJP was very wary of the raids as one senior leader is known to have been very close to Radia. As the day progressed (Tuesday, Dec 14) though, there were worries that the raids could also include this leader from Karnataka. When that did not happen, there was a big sigh of relief. Party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar called the raids “too little, too late”. He told the media the CBI action was a farce. “The accused has had all the time to conceal relevant documents. No FIR has been filed and there can be no proper investigation without lodging an FIR and preparing a chargesheet. People want stern action and they want the guilty punished.”


Money Trail The CBI raids the Chennai offices of Tamil Maiyam, an NGO she’s a director of, as part of the probe into the 2G scam. (Photograph by Martin Louis)

Sources reveal that Javadekar’s statement was a result of backroom action by none other than RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. While the BJP was wondering how to sustain the momentum of its anti-corruption agitation,  Bhagwat had been in touch with Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy, getting him to push actions that would eventually benefit the BJP.

Swamy may be a maverick but sources say he is in close touch with the saffron forces and is working to a design that would benefit them. By noon on December 15, Bhagwat had convinced Swamy to file a private criminal complaint in Delhi’s Tis Hazari court to make A. Raja the prime accused in the 2G spectrum scam. As Swamy moved the city court against Raja, the Sangh told BJP leaders that Swamy’s services must be used in this case to reap political benefits.


The BJP’s L.K. Advani outlines the NDA strategy in the campaign against UPA corruption, Delhi, Dec 14

The RSS chief has been throwing his weight behind the Janata Party leader for sometime now. Bhagwat is even slated to release Swamy’s book, Hindutva and National Renaissance, in Delhi on Monday, December 20, in the presence of the RSS top brass. Sources say the sarsanghchalak decided to step in realising that the BJP was struggling to find ways of keeping the issue alive. Party sources confirmed this with one senior party leader explaining, “The telecom scam is difficult to explain to the people. It’s difficult to create an emotional connect for the people with this issue. The next two months are crucial...the challenge really is to keep it alive as an issue.” Now they are betting on the Bhagwat-Swamy mix getting the desired result. 

But will it really be enough to knock UPA-II off balance? The Congress believes that corruption creates a stink but it’s really no longer a regime-changing issue. They say in the end, it’ll be all about the Gandhi family charisma and the social justice plank like food security, and that will again get them through. The Opposition, meanwhile, is delighted that at last it has an issue.


By Saba Naqvi and Prarthna Gahilote with Pushpa Iyengar in Chennai

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