Rifts, cracks, fissures. All the relevant metaphors are being used to describe the health of the DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu. The two have had a rocky history. Indira Gandhi dismissed then DMK chief M Karunanidhi’s government in 1976. The Chandra Shekhar government dismissed the DMK regime due to Congress pressure in 1991 and in 1998, the Congress withdrew support to the I K Gujral-led United Front for refusing to drop the DMK over the Jain Commission report. Nevertheless, from 2004 to 2014, the DMK was an integral part of the Congress-led UPA till the 2G spectrum scam soured ties. Karunanidhi reportedly saw the arrest of his daughter Kanimozhi as a betrayal and the two parties briefly went their separate ways before reuniting for the 2016 Assembly polls.
In light of this past, the escalation of the recent issues between the parties has raised eyebrows. Both Dravidian majors played hardball in allocating seats to allies in the recent rural local body polls in 27 districts. In the end, the results, in terms of number of councillors, favoured the DMK. However, after talks over allocation of district and panchayat union presidents posts failed, the Congress made the unusual decision to air its grievances publicly on Friday. While the leaders subsequently tried to smooth things over, cross-voting—including by Congress councillors—in the indirect elections to district and panchayat union chief posts on Saturday hardly helped matters. The DMK expressed its pique by skipping the opposition meeting called for by interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
While the Congress feels betrayed, history has shown it has a poor strike rate in TN elections. The DMK played it smart by not giving too many seats to its ally despite the pressures of coalition dharma. The Congress should read the writing on the wall and realise it needs the DMK more than the other way around. As for the DMK’s commitment to opposing the CAA, it hardly needs reiteration as the party has led multiple protests against it so far.