Monday, 30th October 2017

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Raja departure whets Cong appetite

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN AND G.C. SHEKHAR
  • Published 15.11.10
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Manmohan Singh (top), M Karunanidhi

Nov. 14: If Jayalalithaa’s offer helped the Centre to persuade M. Karunanidhi to display “good sense” and ease out A. Raja, the Congress is banking on the same factor to make a run for the telecom portfolio.

The formal procedure to accept Raja’s resignation will kick in tomorrow morning after the Prime Minister forwards the letter to the President. The Prime Minister is likely to hold the telecom portfolio until after Parliament’s winter session is over.

He is expected to carry out a larger reshuffle before the AICC plenary to fill the vacancies left by the departure of Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan and now Raja.

Congress sources said the party might leverage its newfangled clout and try to get the telecom portfolio, given the potential of the berth to stir controversies. The portfolio has remained with the DMK under the first and second UPAs — Dayanidhi Maran holding charge initially and then Raja straddling both the editions.

But DMK sources said the party would insist on retaining the portfolio.

Among the DMK aspirants for the coveted berth is T.R. Baalu, who lost out in the ministerial race two years ago, and he has been pushing his case with Karunanidhi. But deputy chief minister M.K Stalin is reportedly backing minister of state for finance S.S. Palanimanickam and wants him to be elevated to cabinet rank.

Stalin’s contention is that Palanimanickam has been minister of state for more than seven years now and that experience would come in handy in a crucial portfolio like telecom.

But the chances of A.K. Vijayan, a three-time MP from Nagapattinam, looks the brightest as he is a Dalit like Raja.

The Centre and the Congress appear to have reckoned that even if the Supreme Court censured Raja again tomorrow, the negative impact would be offset by the resignation. The court will hear two petitions filed against him over the allocation of 2G spectrum.

If restoring normality in Parliament that did not function on the four working days last week was the immediate objective of the UPA, the long-term aim, said sources, was to retrieve the sense of “iqbal” (grace) the government seems to have lost in some measure over the past few days as Raja dug in his heels.

“In public perception, some people are held guilty and Raja is one of them. If we sit tight and do nothing, we will be perceived as co-conspirators out to support those perceived as guilty. Hardly the sort of thing the Prime Minister would want to live with,” a cabinet minister had said a few hours before Raja put in his papers.

The Congress tried hard to keep the moral ground by setting itself apart from errant allies and showing up the ouster of Suresh Kalmadi and Ashok Chavan as examples. However, a source acknowledged that the argument of being compelled to stick to the “coalition dharma” did not wash once the BJP dragged Singh into its campaign.

“It is a tricky situation because people, especially the educated middle-class, who hold the Prime Minister in high regard, wonder why he is so helpless and cannot enforce his writ over corrupt ministers,” a Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu said in the evening.

These circumstances were discussed when the Congress leadership met this morning in Parliament after paying tributes to Jawaharlal Nehru on his birth anniversary. Sources said the leaders — apart from Singh, Sonia, Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmed Patel — were also concerned about the ramifications on the DMK’s first family politics.

That Raja was backed by Rajya Sabha MP and Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi and her mother is no secret. But when Kanimozhi’s name was considered as a replacement, her half-brothers M.K. Stalin and M.K. Alagiri saw red, afraid that her rise as an independent power centre might be legitimised.

After “tasting success” on Raja, the BJP said it would continue the campaign against corruption but without disrupting Parliament.

“Parliament (disruption) is a small thing. It is public opinion and our persuasion that eventually triumphed and forced the Prime Minister to coax out Raja’s resignation. Henceforth, the UPA government will be on permanent notice. There will be no let-up in our pressure,” said BJP spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Prakash Javadekar.

BJP sources said had they not “targeted” the Prime Minister directly and asked “tough” questions on why he was quiet for so long, “nothing would have happened”.

However, the AIADMK said it would continue demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe into the 2G “scam”.

A worry for the Congress stems from the possibility that the Opposition might “smell blood” and raise the scope of its demands to include others such as power minister S.K. Shinde. Activist Medha Patkar and a former police officer had complained that Shinde had allegedly “manipulated documents” to push his relatives’ case in the Adarsh housing allotment.

To counter the offensive, the Congress is readying dossiers in a land allocation case in the BJP-ruled Karnataka in which chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa is alleged to have favoured his sons.

Asked if Yeddyurappa would be asked to step down, Javadekar said: “Why should he? There is no comparison.”