Why fissures are appearing in DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu

Janardhan Koushik
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Post the rural body elections, there has been a sense of discomfort from both the Dravidian parties towards their alliance partners

A spat between the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) members Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have sprung up a surprise in Tamil Nadu's political arena. The two parties are having a go at each other in the last couple of days, leading to speculations about their alliance ahead of next year's assembly elections.

The fallout between the two parties came out in the open after Tamil Nadu Congress Committee leader KS Alagiri and assembly floor leader K.R. Ramasamy accused the DMK of completely ignoring their party to the post of chairpersons in district panchayat and panchayat unions. In a statement, Alagiri accused DMK of not adhering to the "coalition dharma".

This irked the DMK headquarters which retaliated by boycotting the opposition strategy meeting convened by Congress leader Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Tuesday. The meeting was organised to show the opposition’s dissent over the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register. DMK’s parliamentary leader TR Baalu said they were upset by Alagiri’s comment and hence they boycotted the opposition meeting. “We considered the statement as a direct accusation on our leader Stalin. Our cadres are upset by Congress’ statement and started asking whether Congress is really part of our alliance and hence we skipped the meeting,” Baalu said. He also said that only time would tell whether the relationship between Congress and DMK would return to normalcy.

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From 2004 to 2013, the Congress-DMK alliance remained unruffled. DMK broke ties with Congress over their stand in the United Nations on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue. The partnership came to existence again in 2016.

DMK treasurer Duraimurugan dropped another bomb by saying that his party was not concerned about Congress leaving the alliance. He further added that DMK will not expel any of their alliance partners but at the same time if they (allies) decide to leave the coalition, DMK won’t press them to stay.

Reacting to Duraimurugan's comment, Congress MP Karti Chidambaram posted a tweet asking whether DMK was not aware of Congress’ vote bank before Vellore parliamentary elections. “Why didn’t this wisdom dawn before the Vellore parliamentary bye election?” he tweeted.

Under these circumstances, Alagiri met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. Speaking to reporters in Chennai after the meet, Alagiri attempted to downplay the whole saga by claiming there is no rift between Congress and DMK. “There is no difference of opinion between Congress and DMK. We are a natural alliance and we believe that Thalapathy Stalin is our alliance leader and want him to be elected as the Chief Minister in the 2021 assembly election. Regarding the local body elections, we had a slight disappointment over the allocations of posts. DMK would also have faced some difficulties because of us, there is nothing wrong in expressing our concern, DMK wouldn’t take this in wrong sense,” he said.

Post the rural body elections, there has been a sense of discomfort from both the Dravidian parties towards their alliance partners. Pattali Makkal Katchi leader Anbumani Ramadoss openly said that AIADMK continues to be in power because of their party’s support.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, a senior Congress leader said the issue between the two parties will be sorted out in the upcoming days. "DMK leaders got little annoyed by the statement given by our party leader. The statement was given out of disappointment and nothing else. We have been with DMK for all these years and both of us have mutual respect. This whole issue is because of the system of indirect elections to the top-level posts. For example, if there are 20 councilors in one union, DMK allocates only one or two posts to Congress. We seek the Chairman posts but with just two councilors how can we get the top-level posts, even if the party headquarters instructs their councilors to support any Congress candidate to the top posts, the ground level workers are not ready to do that. Both DMK and Congress have the same ideology, we are fighting against the BJP-led NDA alliance. These small differences of opinions won't cause any damage to our alliance. I expect DMK leader Stalin to intervene and put an end to all the speculations, till then the second round of leaders from both parties should hold their nerves, they need to restrain from giving unnecessary statements," he said.

Political commentator and editor of popular Tamil daily R Venkatesh feels that both the Dravidian parties do not want their alliance partners to dictate terms. He said both AIADMK and DMK take inspiration from other Indian states like Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Haryana and wanted to prove to the national parties that regional parties are the main stakeholders in the coalition.

“In 2016 elections, DMK gave 41 seats to Congress and the latter won only in 8 constituencies. DMK thought they gave away too many seats to Congress. They began to think Congress as a burden but at the same time, they were afraid to contest the 2019 parliament elections alone. Stalin understood that there is an anti-Modi wave in TN and hence he projected Rahul Gandhi as the next PM candidate, so naturally, all the votes against Modi went in favour of Rahul Gandhi which helped DMK gain 39 Lok sabha seats. The friction started from there, Congress believed people voted for their alliance in TN because Rahul Gandhi was projected as the PM candidate, on the other hand, DMK believed it is because of their leadership."

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Tamil Nadu Congress Committee leader KS Alagiri accused the DMK of completely ignoring their party to the post of chairpersons in district panchayat and panchayat unions.

Venkatesh added that DMK never encouraged any of their alliance partners to own success. “In Nanguneri by-polls, DMK never wanted Congress to win because they thought if they win this, then they would be demanding more seats in the upcoming elections. In the panchayat body elections, Congress wanted to showcase their strength by claiming more chairman posts but DMK didn’t want to commit the same mistake as they did in 2016 elections. If this friction between these parties continues, naturally it will reflect on the ground and both parties would lose in the upcoming Urban local body elections. And if that happens, DMK will be more affected than Congress because the defeat will hamper their chances of gaining power in the assembly election,” he added.

When asked whether a third coalition is possible, Venkatesh said it is very much on Congress’ radar. “Yes, Congress will be having that on the mind. If they decide to end their ties with DMK, they won’t take the risk of contesting alone in the assembly election and hence they will join hands with any newcomers like Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan. But if they do that, it won’t benefit them as they won’t be able to gain many seats but it can split the votes and pave way for a coalition government."

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