Why Congress is not ready to nudge out DMK from I.N.D.I.A alliance?

TN CM Stalin from DMK got the invitation to participate in the next meeting of the INDI Alliance that is scheduled for December 19, 2023. DMK is a long-standing alliance partner of Congress, except in the 2014 general elections, when DMK pulled out of UPA. The arrest of Kanimozhi, daughter of erstwhile president of DMK […]

TN CM Stalin from DMK got the invitation to participate in the next meeting of the INDI Alliance that is scheduled for December 19, 2023. DMK is a long-standing alliance partner of Congress, except in the 2014 general elections, when DMK pulled out of UPA. The arrest of Kanimozhi, daughter of erstwhile president of DMK M Karunanidhi, on the orders of the SC-monitored probe on the 2G spectrum case and subsequent incarceration in Tihar jail for about six months, and Congress’s blackmail during the seat sharing of the 2011 TN assembly elections to demand 63 seats when the seat sharing talks were held on one floor and the interrogation of Karunanidhi’s second wife Dayalu on the other floor simultaneously were the key reasons for Karunanidhi’s anger over Congress, and hence he broke the alliance with Congress in the 2014 general elections.However, the DMK allowed Congress to join the UPA of TN in the 2016 TN assembly elections, followed by the 2019 general elections and the 2021 TN assembly elections.
Some political pundits attributed the defeat of Congress in the December 2023 assembly elections in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan to the anti-incumbency of Congress governments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, to the pro-incumbency of the MP government, and to the general popularity of the BJP and Modi in these states. However, there are some local Congress leaders who attributed this to the negative outbursts of DMK against Sanatan Dharma, people belonging to Hindi-speaking states, and the anti-nationalistic tone in every action and speech of DMK and its government since it came to power in TN in 2021. However, the Congress high command has not shown any willingness to analyse whether the DMK’s adverse comments impacted the poll outcome in these states and the impending 2024 general elections. Even after the defeat of the Congress in these elections, DMK continued to harp on issues like anti-Hindi and take stances that did not cut ice with the electorate in almost all the states except TN, thereby putting other INDI Alliance parties in embarrassing situations.
What could be the reason for Congress asking DMK to not raise contentious issues at least until the 2024 general elections, let alone expel DMK from the INDI alliance? The only exception is when a DMK MP called MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, as Gomutra states, the Congress intervened and the DMK MP withdrew his statement. There is a huge difference between Congress and other INDI Alliance parties in dealing with the continued outbursts of the DMK. INDI Alliance parties other than Congress have no business with DMK, either on seat sharing or on joint propaganda. They could convince their electorate that they are neither in direct alliance with DMK nor agree with DMK’s outbursts, especially on issues that would damage their poll prospects, nor share the stage in their respective turfs with DMK. But Congress, which is in direct alliance with the DMK in TN, will also have to share seats and dais with the DMK during poll propaganda. The Congress is certainly not naïve enough to bear the cost of DMK’s outburst in the states where it must contest with the BJP directly, which are about 200 seats compared to the few seats DMK may give to Congress in TN, even if it is assumed that Congress tacitly concurs with the outbursts of DMK. Despite this, why is Congress not ready to nudge DMK out of the INDI Alliance? fter the outcome of the December 2023 state assembly elections in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan and the recent Times of India-ETG survey, Congress would have concluded that the vote gap in the 2024 general elections in seats where it must contest against the BJP will be too wide to cross. Even when Congress won comfortably in Chhattisgarh and managed to scrape through in MP and Rajasthan in the 2018 December state elections, the difference between Congress and BJP in these states was about 15%–20% during the subsequent 2019 general elections. The recent ToI-ETG survey emphasised the same thing. The same ToI-ETG survey indicated that the DMK, Congress, AIADMK, and BJP may get 29%, 21%, 19%, and 14% of the total votes, respectively, in TN if the 2024 general elections are held now. When Congress was forced to contest alone in the 2014 general elections, it got a vote share of only 4.3%. The survey might have indicated the inclination of the voters towards Congress over the BJP in TN. Congress has had no organisational structure in TN for about two decades now, and it depends on DMK’s organisational structure even to contest and win the elections. However, with no AIADMK-BJP alliance, Congress might have thought that if the DMK-Congress alliance continues in TN, the difference between the Congress-DMK alliance and the runner-up (either AIADMK or BJP) would be so large that even with the growing anti-incumbency for DMK, the DMK-Congress alliance could still win most of the seats in TN. DMK has been marginalising the alliance partners over the elections, either by allocating very few seats or by asking them to contest on the DMK symbol in the 2021 assembly elections, and as a result, the organisation of alliance parties has shrunk enormously. Congress was given only 25 assembly seats in the 2021 assembly elections, compared to 41 and 63 in 2016 and 2011, respectively, by the DMK. Congress was given 15 seats and 10 seats, respectively, in the 2019 and 2009 general elections, respectively. Even if DMK allots single-digit seats from Congress in the 2024 general elections, Congress believes that it could win most of them, given that there is no alliance between AIADMK and BJP.
Congress’s calculated risk of dog-whistling to Muslim voters by including the ban on Bajrang Dal in the 2023 Karnataka assembly elections manifesto moved the Muslim votes en bloc to the Congress, which otherwise got apportioned with JDS and enabled its victory. Congress may have to choose one of the options. The first option is to expel DMK from the INDI Alliance and expect to win some seats in direct contest with the BJP and not win any seats in TN. The second option is to be with DMK and win a few seats in TN with the support of DMK and not win any seats or win a couple of seats in a direct contest with the BJP. As of today, Congress thinks that the second option is better than the first option; thereby, Congress is now embarking on a calculated risk of continued accommodation of DMK in the INDI Alliance.

The author is a political analyst. Email ramakrishnan@iima.ac.in)