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Cabinet carrot for DMK

Chennai/New Delhi, Dec. 2: Keen to keep the DMK in good humour and not risk losing its support abruptly, the BJP has asked the Tamil Nadu party to suggest a replacement in the Union cabinet for Murasoli Maran.

The DMK veteran, a former Union commerce and industries minister who played a lead role in getting his party to ally with the BJP in 1999, died on November 23. Maran was the DMK’s “national face” and a “bridge” between the party and the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

Despite being a part of the NDA, the DMK has been at loggerheads with the state unit of the BJP, which has been rooting for an alliance with ADMK instead. The DMK was especially miffed when the Tamil Nadu BJP recently said it would maintain an “equidistance” from the ADMK and its arch-rival.

The Congress is also keen to woo the DMK, and it was little surprise that Sonia Gandhi was the first politician to visit the party’s office in Parliament today to sign a condolence book for Maran.

“I convey deep-felt condolences to the family of Murasoli Maran, to his party and to all his supporters and friends,” the Congress chief wrote. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh and NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes also signed the book, as did several other ministers and politicians.

During a meeting with party leaders on Sunday to discuss an alliance with the BJP, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi did not appear keen to seek a replacement for Maran. “There is hardly a year to go (for the present Lok Sabha) and we did not even think about it,” he said. The BJP had not sent feelers, “nor have we sent any to them” Karunanidhi added.

Even so, Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to the DMK chief last evening and asked him to suggest a replacement minister. BJP chief M.Venkaiah Naidu, who called on his DMK counterpart here today to offer condolences, reiterated the Prime Minister’s request. The BJP wishes to be “politically proper and correct” in this matter and wants to show that it does not intend leaving the DMK in the lurch.

Naidu said Karunanidhi had told him he would revert to the BJP’s central leaders after consulting his party.

The DMK chief confirmed that Vajpayee had spoken to him about a replacement – the two leaders have a good mutual equation. He added that Naidu had not discussed politics with him, apart from giving him the BJP’s assessment about the Assembly elections.

On November 23, BJP all-India secretary Ela Ganesan attended a meeting to pay homage to Maran, at which he publicly urged the DMK to continue its alliance with his party.

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