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Congress may be hit by southern troubles

[Reuters, Saturday, 28 February 2009 09:01 No Comment]

One of the government’s key southern allies is struggling, only weeks before a general election, posing a potential problem for the Congress party as it seeks to retain power and build a stable post-poll coalition.

With 39 parliamentary seats, Tamil Nadu is a big prize in the general election, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party swept the state in 2004, becoming a key partner in the national coalition government led by Congress.


This time around, things are unlikely to go so well for the DMK as the party is hit by Tamil protests over the war in Sri Lanka and an economic slowdown hitting the state’s export sector.

In a sign of the DMK’s troubles, its principal rival in the state is trying to supplant it as the main ally of Congress.


This week, Jayalalithaa, a former film actress and now head of the state opposition party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), called on Congress to dump the DMK.


Her approach highlights growing confidence that her party, nearly wiped out in 2004, will fare much better than the DMK in this year’s election.


"Her statement is a sign that things won’t go as well for Congress this time," said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.




Jayalalithaa has shied away from renewing a previous alliance with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has not fully recovered from its 2004 national election defeat.


That might give Congress a confidence boost.


But a more even split in the Tamil Nadu vote this time around — after the 2004 landslide in the state — means Congress would have fewer parliamentary seats to count on from Tamil Nadu when it comes to cobbling together a coalition.


Tamil Nadu has been racked by protests by Tamils who believe the government should do more to help their counterparts caught up in the crossfire between the military and Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. DMK lawmakers recently walked out of the national parliament to protest against the government’s lack of action.

An economic slowdown that has hit the state’s export sector may also have dented support for the incumbent DMK.


Jayalalithaa’s strategy is the latest example of electoral politics being played out across India’s 29 states, where regional parties are deciding whether to support Congress or the BJP.


In Maharashtra, the BJP is reported to be reaching out to a regional party that is part of the ruling Congress coalition. The state counts for 48 seats out of India’s 543 seats in parliament.

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