The Telegraph
Thursday , December 23 , 2010
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Rahul gives DMK chief the miss for third time

Chennai, Dec. 22: Rahul Gandhi avoided meeting DMK chief M. Karunanidhi for a third time he has been in Chennai, reflecting tensions in Congress’s alliance with the party.

Although he spent nearly an hour this afternoon with film stars, writers and NGO workers at a city hotel, which is just five minutes away from Karunanidhi’s official residence, Rahul chose not to pay the octogenarian leader a visit, a courtesy most Congress leaders visiting Chennai consider mandatory.

Even on his previous two trips to Chennai in 2007 and 2009, Rahul made no stopover at either of Karunanidhi’s residences, which caused enormous heartburn among DMK leaders.

“Rahul is not in charge of Tamil Nadu and is here only in connection with Youth Congress-related activities. So where is the need to call on the DMK president?” a senior Congress leader asked today.

But there are instances of several Congress leaders, including Union ministers, making it a point to visit Karunanidhi even though their engagements had nothing to do with the DMK.

To meet Karunanidhi had become the unwritten rule for Delhi-based Congress leaders coming to Tamil Nadu. That is, until Rahul chose not to do so on his visit two years ago.

On his last visit to Chennai in September 2009, Rahul had said in a news conference that there was nothing deliberate in his not meeting Karunanidhi and that he would call on him during his next visit.

Although the young Congress leader stuck to the pattern of his previous two visits by avoiding a meeting with Karunanidhi, he had more than one reason to give a wide berth to the DMK chieftain on Thursday.

The controversy surrounding former telecom minister A. Raja has seen most Congress leaders from Delhi choosing not to hobnob with the DMK leadership as in the past. The only exception being the presence of Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram at the marriage of M.K. Alagiri’s son last month.

Even Congress Union ministers from Tamil Nadu have stopped calling on Karunanidhi after Raja was made to quit. “One reason could be that they did not want any unreasonable demand to be made by the DMK with regard to the 2G investigations,” reasoned a senior Congress MP.

On Wednesday, Rahul had an opportunity to gauge the mood of Congress leaders in the state during his interaction with Youth Congress members at a wedding hall outside Chennai. “When he wanted to know how many of us were happy with the politics in the state, less than 20 per cent raised their hands. Thrice the number raised their hands when he wanted to know how many were not satisfied,” disclosed a Youth Congress functionary who attended the meeting.

“Building the party, which has been out of power for (nearly) 40 years, is going to take time. We should be prepared to work, especially at the grassroots level,” he said at the interaction.

Although the collective thumbs down tallied with Rahul’s own reading of his party’s ties with the DMK, Congress leaders in the state still believe their high command will continue to sail with the DMK during the Assembly elections. “Unless something dramatic happens in the 2G investigation there is little scope for a change of partners. Sonia Gandhi may not want to experiment this close to the elections,” said a Congress MLA.

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