New Delhi/Chennai: For much of its second term in office that started in 2009, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has been in crisis mode, and it went into another on Tuesday when a key constituent, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), withdrew its support, weakening the government’s ability to pass key items of legislation and take decisive steps to revive a faltering economy, although there is no immediate danger to its continuance in power.
The DMK, which is the second largest constituent of the Congress-led coalition, with 18 representatives in the Lower House of Parliament, pulled out on account of New Delhi’s stance on human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government against an ethnic Tamil minority, but threw a lifeline to its larger partner when its leader M. Karunanidhi said it would reconsider its decision if Parliament adopts a resolution before 21 March incorporating the two amendments he had suggested to be moved on the US-backed resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Late on Tuesday, DMK leader T.R. Baalu submitted a letter to the President withdrawing support to the government. He said DMK’s ministers will submit their resignations on Wednesday.
The UPA said there is no threat to the government’s stability and expressed its willingness to accede to the DMK’s demand for a resolution in Parliament. The government’s optimism received a boost when its so-called friendly parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), indicated that they would continue their issue-based support to it.
“Let me assure everyone that the stability of the government and the continuation of the government are not an issue. The government is absolutely stable and enjoys majority in the Lok Sabha,” finance minister P. Chidambaram told reporters outside Parliament.
SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav told reporters in Parliament House, before the DMK submitted the letter to the President: “No one has pulled out; this is only to blackmail the government. It is stable.”
BSP chief Mayawati said: “The UPA government is not in a minority; we will support it.”
Political observers say that even if the government may not fall immediately, mainly because no party is ready for a snap poll, the reducing majority will create a crisis. The DMK’s move comes in the middle of a deep economic crisis and when the government is struggling to contain high inflation and revive a sagging economy. Opposition parties, however, said the country is heading for an early poll, although analysts put this down as a stock reaction that lacks conviction.
“The government does not have a majority now. It should go,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. Asked whether the BJP is ready to face the electorate, he said, “We are always ready to face the elections.”
The next Lok Sabha election is scheduled in 2014.
“The Indian government has not considered any of the DMK’s recommendations. And it has also diluted America’s draft resolution,” Karunanidhi’s statement issued in Chennai said. “There is no benefit in this to the Sri Lankan Tamils whatsoever, and it would be an injustice to the Tamil race if we continue to give our support to the UPA government.”
The DMK said the government should adopt a resolution in Parliament seeking amendments to what it said was the diluted version of the US-sponsored resolution. The DMK has demanded the inclusion of the term “genocide” and called for a “credible independent international probe into the war crimes” in the resolution.
The UPA has been in a minority in Parliament since another ally, the Trinamool Congress, pulled out in September. In the Lok Sabha, of which the current strength is 540, the government has 231 members and it relies on the support of 49 others, including the SP’s 22 members of Parliament and the BSP’s 21 for the smooth functioning of Parliament.
Chidambaram, who along with his cabinet colleagues defence minister A.K. Antony and health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, met Karunanidhi to discuss the DMK’s demands, said the government “is in consideration” of its ally’s demands.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party that leads the UPA government, in an address at a Congress parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday morning, said her party demanded an independent inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. She didn’t comment on the DMK pulling out of the UPA government.
Savithri Kannan, a Chennai-based political analyst, said the DMK’s move was an attempt to regain its political credibility and relevance in the state’s politics. “Right now, there is a competition between political parties in Tamil Nadu to see who will show more sympathy towards Sri Lankan Tamils, and the DMK wants to win that competition,” Kannan said pointing out that three cabinet ministers came down to discuss the issue with the former chief minister. “Even after Karunanidhi issuing threats, letters and three central ministers coming to visit him, the Centre has not examined his recommendations, and for Karunanidhi, that is a matter of his pride. Unless, the Centre includes some of his suggestions, the DMK may not get back with the UPA,” he said.
Experts also pointed out that there has been an increasing influence of the regional forces on the country’s foreign policy. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s influence had sunk the signing of the Teesta water-sharing pact between India and Bangladesh.
Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary, said: “The time has come when we recognize that we are in an era of coalition politics, and so states and their views have to be taken into account.”
“But having said that, foreign policy is the responsibility of the central government as per the Constitution, and on foreign policy issues, it can compromise only up to a point. This has to be conveyed to the states that a line has to be drawn. In this case, I don’t think the DMK is justified, though they are concerned about the plight of the Tamils,” he said.
Elizabeth Roche in New Delhi contributed to this story.