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DMK not keen on ministry

New Delhi, Jan. 15: The DMK is unlikely to reclaim the commerce portfolio held by Murasoli Maran as the party, slowly distancing itself from the BJP and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, may eventually quit the National Democratic Alliance.

Maran, who was seriously ill, was flown to the US for treatment two months ago. Though he has made a remarkable recovery, he is not yet fully fit.

Sources said he is unlikely to resume ministerial responsibilities and that DMK chief M. Karunanidhi has also indicated to confidants that his party should not have another nominee in the NDA government as it is preparing to quit the coalition.

A section of party leaders is, however, trying to persuade Karunanidhi not to let go of the ministry till the DMK formally parts ways with the NDA. Besides Maran, the party has two other ministers in Vajpayee’s council — Cabinet minister T.R. Baalu, who is in charge of environment, and A. Raja, minister of state for health.

After Maran’s condition deteriorated, disinvestment minister Arun Shourie was entrusted with the task of overseeing the commerce ministry’s functioning as it is an important department in the light of the government’s disinvestment policy.

Government sources, however, said Vajpayee was planning to give the DMK another ministry in lieu of commerce in the next shuffle and that Karunanidhi’s sudden criticism of the disinvestment policy was a ploy get back the ministry.

But DMK sources said Karunanidhi is in touch with Congress and Left leaders and has almost made up his mind to split from the saffron camp at the appropriate time. The former Tamil Nadu chief minister has already declared there was no truck with the BJP at the state level and the alliance was only at the Centre.

DMK-BJP ties hit rock bottom after his rival, ADMK chief Jayalalithaa, was invited by Narendra Modi to Gandhinagar to attend his swearing-in as chief minister. The move created panic in the DMK camp as Jayalalithaa used the opportunity to project herself as a new icon of Hindutva in the Dravidian heartland while Karunanidhi earned the wrath of state BJP leaders and Sangh hawks for his “anti-Hindu” statements.

The ADMK government’s controversial law against forcible religious conversion and Jayalalithaa’s criticism of Congress president Sonia Gandhi also endeared her to the saffron camp.

Sources said Karunanidhi’s attack on the Centre’s economic policies might have been a calculated move as attacking Hindutva too much could be counterproductive. The DMK executive, in a surprise move, had on Sunday attacked the Centre’s economic policies and opposed privatisation of public sector companies providing basic infrastructure facilities.

It said globalisation of the economy would change the country’s status as a socialist republic and demanded suitable modifications to the economic policies to protect Indian industry and avert large-scale unemployment and retrenchment.

Karunanidhi said in the last three years, Maran had implemented a reform process without affecting economic development. “We want the same policy to be continued,” he replied, asked why the DMK had suddenly changed its stand on the Centre’s economic policies. The party’s opposition to privatisation is significant because Maran is a staunch supporter of liberalisation.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko, another ally of the NDA from Tamil Nadu, has also opposed the disinvestment policy, saying he “welcomed” Karunanidhi’s views. “My view is the same as that of the DMK,” Vaiko told reporters.

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