The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chidambaram on road to Cong

New Delhi, May 13: Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s recent shuffle of party posts is beginning to make a difference, with former finance minister P. Chidambaram set to return after seven years.

He met Sonia last week in Delhi to express his desire to come back before next year’s general election.

Kamal Nath, who was given charge of Tamil Nadu in the recent shuffle, has initiated a fresh drive to complete the party’s reunification and is said to be behind the meeting.

Chidambaram, once close to Sonia, had fallen out with her allegedly over monitoring the progress of the inquiry into Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The ice was broken at last week’s meeting, the first between them in over four years, sources said. “It is now only a matter of procedure and timing before Chidambaram returns to the Congress,” they added.

The former finance minister, hailed for presenting a “dream budget” in the short-lived United Front government at the Centre, was not available for comment as he left on a foreign trip soon after the meeting.

The long-pending revamp of the Tamil Nadu Congress, which suffered a big split in 1996 when G.K. Moopanar left to form the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), could be delayed until Chidambaram’s expected return.

Moopanar’s son G.K. Vasan led the TMC back into the parent party before the last Assembly elections. But Chidambaram, who was one of the TMC’s founding members, kept out of the merger and floated his own party.

For over a year, the reunification drive did not make much progress. The state was so long being looked after by the relatively junior Ramesh Chennithala, a secretary with independent charge, who was considered close to Vasan.

In the wake of Chidambaram’s meeting with Sonia, speculation is that the Congress might get closer to the DMK in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections. Chidambaram, a bitter critic of ADMK leader and chief minister Jayalalithaa, shares a good rapport with DMK leader M. Karunanidhi.

The DMK’s ties with the BJP are seen to be gradually deteriorating, though the party continues to be a constituent of the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

The Congress leadership is unlikely to make any open overtures to the DMK so long as it continues to be part of the NDA. But Chidambaram could be an important player if and when it chooses to do so.

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