Karunanidhi’s most potent weapon is to threaten his allies.
A little before the DMK high-level committee meeting at 5.55 pm to issue a threat to the Congress to end it all, M Karunanidhi’s phone rang. The DMK leader knew who the caller was, but asked his personal assistant to say he was busy in a meeting. On the other end was Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Karunanidhi might have surprised Pranab by not taking the call, but it is unlikely that Congress was caught unawares by the DMK threat. There have been plenty of them during the seven-year association. On May 22, 2009, when Manmohan Singh was still putting in place his new government, Karunanidhi had blocked seats on an Indian Airlines flight to take back his 18 MPs if the party was not given seven ministerial berths. The Congress obliged.
DMK had a more emotional reason to employ the threat weapon in November 2008, when the war in Sri Lanka was peaking. “We are not heartless enough to ignore the sufferings of the Tamils,” it had said, threatening to pull out if the Centre did not take steps to stop the killings in Lanka. This time, a few diplomatic noises were enough to make the southern ally silent.
“This has been DMK’s style,” says political commentator Gnani. “But Karunanidhi employs threat as a strategy only when he is dealing with a person like Sonia who has been decent. Karunanidhi may not have done this if he was dealing with a tougher person like Rahul Gandhi.”
If toughness of his partner is Karunanidhi’s criteria to be assertive, he had it easy in July 2006, when he threatened to pull the rug if the government did not shelve its proposal to divest its 10% share in the Neyveli Lignite Corporation. Manmohan Singh immediately fell in line.
The NDA government, too, had a taste of DMK’s blackmail tactics. In December, 2003, Karunanidhi said his party would withdraw support to the government in protest against then BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu’s remark that DMK, as an ally of NDA, should not agitate against the government. BJP cleared the air, but the next year was another election. And DMK found another friend in Congress.
DMDK presidium chairman Panruti S Ramachandran said chief minister M Karunanidhi was angry with Congress only because the party had never given him any assurance that his family would be “protected from any probe” in connection with the 2G spectrum scam. “If the party had given him assurance, then the matter could have been different.
We have to wait and see whether DMK can win the election without Congress.