The swiftness displayed by the leadership of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress in thrashing out their differences over sharing posts for rural local bodies (RLBs) demonstrates pragmatism on the part of both parties.
While the DMK would not like to get distracted from its primary objective of returning to power in the Assembly elections, due in April-May next year, the national party does not want to lose its long-time ally at a time when it is increasingly seen as friendless at the all-India level.
The convergence of interests has, among others, facilitated the breaking of the ice. Other constituents of the DMK-led combine had also communicated to it that they want it to sort out the problem with the Congress at the earliest.
The trouble began when Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president K.S. Alagiri and Congress Legislature Party leader K.R. Ramasamy issued a statement on January 10, accusing the DMK of violating the coalition dharma by allotting only two of the 303 chairpersons of panchayat unions and not conceding a single post of chairperson of district panchayats. A few days later, the DMK chose to boycott a meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). What followed later was a sharp exchange of words between second-rung leaders of both parties.
The controversy also erupted at a time when veteran film star Rajinikanth was getting drawn into one political issue or the other.
As the relationship between the two parties took a serious turn during the course of the previous week, many political observers speculated two scenarios: the Congress aligning itself with the AIADMK or with Mr. Rajnikanth in the event of his launching a party.
It was against this backdrop that the DMK and the Congress, on Saturday last, decided to bring the controversy to an end.
Enthused by the outcome of the December 2019 polls to rural local bodies in 27 districts in which the DMK and its allies had managed to be ahead of the ruling AIADMK-led front despite raising a number of objections over the poll process, the DMK seems to have realised that every move that it is going to take in the coming months should be directed towards achieving success in the Assembly polls. The message that we got after todays meeting of the DMK executive committee is that the leadership wants us to act cohesively in the next round of local bodies elections which should continue till the Assembly polls, said a functionary.
The DMK leadership is also aware that it cannot afford yet another defeat which means that it will not be in power for 15 years at a stretch. Ever since the DMK captured power for the first time in 1967, the longest spell of remaining out of power was 13 years (January 1976 January 1989). The party and its principal adversary, AIADMK, shared power, alternatively, between 1984 and 2011.
Though the Congress vote share had shrunk over the years, it still has some base in the southern parts of the State and in Tier-II and Tier-III towns. When the party contested on its own in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it did not win a single seat but polled 17.5 lakh votes in 39 constituencies with a vote share of 4.3%. And as a partner of the DMK in the 2019 parliamentary polls, it got about 54 lakh votes with around 13% of valid votes polled in the State.
Besides, a section of religious minorities has been a steady source of support to it.
Apparently, the Saturday meeting took place at the initiative of the high command of the Congress, which is keen on retaining every ally, more so a strong ally such as the DMK, at this juncture. This was reflected when a delegation of senior TNCC leaders including Mr. Alagiri, Mr. Ramasamy and former TNCC chief K.V. Thangkabalu, went to the DMK headquarters and met party president M.K. Stalin. Even as they expressed their willingness to work with the DMK, the latter had again communicated its displeasure over the January 10 statement.
At a time when the State is experiencing protest after protest over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, all those who are against the BJP-led government would like to reap the political dividends which can be realised in the immediate run when the urban local bodies polls are held along with elections for rural local bodies in nine districts. It is after considering all these factors that the DMK and the Congress, according to leaders of both parties, have buried the hatchet.