New Delhi: Government formation on Thursday got into trouble with key ally DMK refusing to join the ministry after talks with Congress on portfolio allocation were deadlocked on the eve of swearing in of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister for a second consecutive term.
Reminiscent of the scenes witnessed on the eve of government formation in 2004, the DMK announced that it was not agreeable to Congress “formula” on ministerial allocation and would extend outside support.
DMK leaders, including party chief M Karunanidhi, are returning to Chennai on Friday to discuss the issue in its executive council, Parliamentary Party leader T R Baalu told reporters after several rounds between the two parties.
“My leader Karunanidhi has advised me to inform that DMK will support the government from outside,” he said.
Baalu announced the DMK decision after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called up Karunanidhi who conveyed his rejection of the Congress proposal.
He said in 2004, there was no formula on allocation of ministerial portfolios and wondered why the Congress was wanting one now.
However, the Congress said the “dialogue” with DMK has not ended, in indications that senior party leaders would hold further negotiations to hammer out a solution.
Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi said, without giving details, that DMK wanted “status quo” and “more” ministerial berths — seven portfolios plus more.
There was no official version on what exactly was DMK’s demand and what was Congress’ offer. There were various versions.
One of them was that DMK wanted seven portfolios, four of them of Cabinet rank for Karunanidhi’s son M K Azhagiri, grand nephew Dayananidhi Maran, daugher Kanimozhi, besides incumbents A Raja and Baalu and three MoS berths.
Another version was that Congress was opposed to inclusion of Baalu and Raja on grounds of performance and alleged corruption which DMK sought to contest. Yet another version was that DMK was also keen on Railways, which is said to be eyed by Trinamool Congress.
Dwivedi conceded this much that the Congress proposal was not acceptable to DMK which felt it was “less”. “They are demanding too much. They should be more reasonable,” he said.
Dwivedi said the Congress proposal was to maintain “status quo as was done to some other parties but they wanted more than that.”
On the eve of swearing in of government in 2004, similar drama was witnessed when DMK threatened not to join the ministry insisting on Shipping and Transport portfolio which it finally got after TRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao gave up this department in favour of Labour.
DMK has 18 MPs and is the third largest constituent of the UPA after Congress and Trinamool Congress, which has 19.
Stuck by ‘berth’ pangs, the Congress was grappling with other allies like Trinamool Congress and NCP who were doing hard negotiations to get plum portfolios.
Among the ‘big four’ portfolios finance is likely to go to Pranab Mukherjee, while home and defence would be retained by P Chidambaram and A K Antony. There is no finality about who will bag external affairs for which names of Kamal Nath and Kapil Sibal are doing the rounds.
A scheduled meeting of the Prime Minister with President Pratibha Patil in the morning, which was later put off, fuelled speculation that there could be a deadlock over ministry formation. But sources said that the meeting had nothing to do with government formation.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who may not not join the UPA government, held third round of talks with Congress leaders but dismissed suggestions that she was bargaining hard for key ministries.
“There is no talk of bargaining (for ministerial posts). .... We have not discussed this. What they (Congress) want, they will do. Even if they don’t give us anything, we don’t mind,” Banerjee told reporters.
However, sources said the party is keen on railways, coal and mines and steel portfolios which, it feels, are critical to West Bengal economy. It was also eyeing the portfolios of health and home affairs at the minister of state level.