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DMK, Didi keep Cong on toes
Allies bargain hard for berths, Karuna to give  outside support
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, May 21
The Congress was engaged in a battle of nerves with its key ally, the DMK, till late tonight over the allocation of ministerial berths in the new UPA government, which is to be sworn in tomorrow.

With both sides acting tough, the DMK dramatically announced this evening that talks with the Congress had broken down and that instead of joining the Manmohan Singh-led government, it would now lend outside support to the ruling coalition.

The announcement was made by DMK leader TR Baalu after hard negotiations between the two parties proved to be inconclusive. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s telephone call to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunandihi also failed to mollify the DMK stalwart, who said his entire team would be leaving for Chennai tomorrow morning and would not be attending the swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan as originally planned.

“The Congress’ proposal is not acceptable to us; there was no formula on establishment of government in 2004. DMK will give outside support to the UPA,” Baalu said.

The DMK’s rejection resulted in a flurry of meetings in the Congress camp. The party’s negotiating team comprising Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel were confabulating at Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s 10 Janpath residence late tonight. Earlier, they held a round of talks with Manmohan Singh.

The Congress had suggested that status quo be maintained and that the DMK be given the same number of berths that it got in 2004. This was, however, not acceptable to the DMK, which wanted an increase in its share on the plea that they had won 18 seats, an improvement of two on their last tally. In addition, they made a determined pitch for what are perceived to be lucrative ministries like telecom, IT, surface transport and shipping, which did not find favour with the Congress as it wants to keep these key infrastructure ministries for itself.

The DMK has asked for seven berths, including three Cabinet ministries for D Raja, TR Baalu and Dayanidhi Maran, two ministers for state - Karurnanidhi’s son Azahgiri and daughter Kanimohzi and others. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is uncomfortable over the return of Raja and Baalu, whose performance as ministers in the outgoing government was found to be below par. Besides, there were serious corruption charges against them.

The Congress believes that it can call the shots this time as compared to 2004 as it is in a far stronger position with 206 seats. The other internal assessment is that the DMK will eventually come around, as its own government in Tamil Nadu is critically dependent on the Congress. However, the DMK leaders are known to be tough negotiators. In 2004, they had flown back to Chennai and its ministers did not join office till the Congress gave in to their demands.

Admitting that the talks have broken down, Congress spokesperson Janardan Dwievedi said, “Their demand is unacceptable as it is more than that what we are ready to give. We proposed that status quo be maintained. But, they did not relent and so this stalemate. But we will continue our dialogue with our allies.”

In contrast to the DMK, the Congress negotiations with Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress were concluded smoothly. She is likely to get one Cabinet berth (Railways for Mamata herself) and five ministers for state, possibly in the health, rural development and minority affairs ministries. The Trinamool leader’s first priority is the 2011 assembly elections in West Bengal and she wants to focus on strengthening her organisation in the state.

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