The UPA’s southern discomfort
RELATIONS between the Congress and the DMK have always been tenuous despite the leaders of both sides going to great lengths to send out signals of unparalleled solidarity.
The latest display of this was a fortnight ago, when Sonia Gandhi sent a handwritten message to DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi on his 87th birthday. But the bonhomie is not shared down the line and DMK leaders feel that a section of Congress leaders are as vociferous in demanding communications minister A. Raja’s resignation as the opposition is.
The fissures are now out in the open and at the DMK headquarters in Chennai, party leaders speak of a conspiracy by a section of the state Congress to cut the DMK to size. If reports are to be believed, this group wants the high command to put pressure on the DMK leadership for a 50- 50 share of the 234 assembly seats when the state goes to the polls next year.
However, the DMK wants to contest at least 140 seats and at best is ready to leave 70 to 80 seats for the Congress. The differences are not irreconcilable as yet, but could turn out to be if the group led by G. K. Vasan, Union minister and son of the late Congress heavyweight G. K. Moopanar, chooses to be unrelenting.
Yet another twist was added to the tale recently when a powerful group within the Congress, led by former minister K. V. Thangkabalu, floated the idea of aligning with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK once again.
Thangkabalu has already sounded out the high command about this and is believed to have told them that Jayalalithaa was ready to give the Congress 120 seats.
The Congress and the BJP have been in the habit of swapping partners every few years and it would be no surprise if the Congress once again joins hands with the Iron Lady of Poes Garden, leaving the DMK to embrace the BJP- led NDA once again.
The jostle for the third EC slot begins
CHIEF Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla is due to retire next month and the UPA government has a tough task filling the vacancy, considering that there is a torrent of names being forwarded to the powers that be. Until T. N. Seshan came along in 1990 and started a badly needed clean- up of the electoral system, the office of the CEC was just like any other constitutional office. Since then, it has acquired a higher profile and is now among the most coveted jobs.
While S. Y. Quraishi, the Haryana cadre IAS officer who joined as a commissioner in 2006, will take over as the new CEC, V. S. Sampath, a 1973- batch IAS officer of the Andhra cadre, will remain commissioner.
There is much speculation about who will fill the third slot and regional and gender pressures are being mounted on the Congress leadership, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and law minister Veerappa Moily.
Among the front- runners are finance secretary Ashok Chawla and agriculture secretary T. Nanda Kumar, while an officer from the North East is said to be a dark horse. But there is an influential section in the UPA which feels that it is time for a woman to be appointed to the high constitutional office.
If this opinion prevails, the choice could be between Shanta Sheela Nair, a former home secretary of Tamil Nadu and currently secretary in the ministry of mines, and Sushma Nath, expenditure secretary.
As UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi has helped smash several glass ceilings by giving the country its first woman president as well as the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha. If Sonia puts her might behind either Nair or Nath, the Election Commission, considered to be the last of the male bastions, may fall and get its first woman commissioner. If that happens, in about four years time, the country will have its first woman CEC.
I AM NO football fan. But for the past week and the next three, I am one. Like millions around the world, I have been glued to the TV. There are countries out there participating that a lot of us can’t locate on a map. Others have suspended their fratricidal wars and united, if only for a month.
Immensely gifted players who seemingly make the ball talk and whose names I did not know until last week now dominate the front pages. After a week of this new addiction, I realise now why they call it a beautiful game. It is truly a world- class game played for a worldwide audience where Cinderella nations take on the mighty — and win. When you watch Serbia ( population 7 million, half of Delhi) defeat three time world champions Germany, it makes you sit up and wonder: Why can’t India with a billion- plus population produce 11 players who have the hunger and passion to, if not dazzle, at least play on the world stage.
The bane, I am told, is again the politician. In the 1950s and 60s, India were on top of Asia, routinely beat the Koreans and the Japanese, won several Asian Games golds and were even an Olympic semifinalist once. The downhill slide began with politicians taking over the game’s administration in the mid 80s. It has been a downhill slide since. Sports minister M. S. Gill should take that extra step and tell the politicos: stay away from sport altogether.