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DMK marriage on the rocks

Chennai, Dec. 20: The DMK today pulled out its two ministers from the Union cabinet and withdrew from the central coalition, ending a four-and-a-half-year-old relationship with the BJP that had come under increasing strain over a series of developments.

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi announced the decision after a two-hour meeting of the party’s strategy committee. He said environment minister T.R. Baalu and junior health minister A. Raja were being withdrawn. The party will extend “issue-based support to the government from the outside”, he added.

The BJP termed the decision to withdraw the ministers “unfortunate” but said it would not affect the National Democratic Alliance regime. “It is unfortunate. But this will have no effect on the stability of the NDA government,” party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu told PTI from Nellore.

Even without the 11-member DMK, the NDA’s strength in the Lok Sabha is over 290, well above the majority mark of 272.

Asked whether the DMK would, like the Telugu Desam Party, extend support from outside, Karunanidhi said: “I leave it to your inference.”

The 79-year-old leader, however, refused to talk about new alliances. Such issues are discussed “only during election time”, the former Tamil Nadu chief minister said. “As of now, we cease to be a member of the NDA and would sit aloof in Parliament.”

The DMK’s decision capped months of uneasy cohabitation with the BJP at the Centre. It lashed out at the state BJP — with which it had already snapped ties — for covertly backing the Jayalalithaa-led ADMK regime.

Karunanidhi said the state unit had applauded some of Jayalalithaa’s policies like banning forcible conversions and the temple annadhana (free food) scheme. The party also nursed the grouse that the Centre had done nothing to curb the alleged misuse of the anti-terror law by the ADMK government, which arrested MDMK MP Vaiko and eight of his partymen under the act.

Karunanidhi also cited the BJP’s “fluctuating” stand on Ayodhya and the back-tracking of the Prime Minister’s Office on a reported statement that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was inclined to a review of the Supreme Court’s recent ban on strikes by government employees as reasons for the differences with the BJP.

The “deteriorating” relation touched its nadir after BJP chief Naidu said in Chennai last week that it was “neither ideal nor healthy” for the DMK “to be in government at the Centre and go in agitation in the state” demanding the repeal of the law.

“We no longer wish to be part of the NDA government at the cost of impairing its health,” Karunanidhi said today.

However, NDA convener George Fernandes, after a telephonic talk with Karunanidhi, said “not all doors have been closed”.

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