DMK-Congress strike seat sharing deal

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New Delhi, March 8 : The standoff between Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) over seat-sharing today ended with the DMK agreeing to allocate 61 seats to Congress in the forthcoming April 13 Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu.

In total, the Congress will contest from 63 seats. The DMK and the Congress reached a consensus after a meeting between Dayanidhi Maran, Pranab Mukherjee and Gulam Nabi Azad.

The controversy, sparked by a disagreement over seat-sharing for Tamil Nadu elections in April, was another blow for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is fighting a series of corruption scandals and high inflation that have weakened his government.

The DMK has 18 seats and gives the ruling Congress a parliamentary majority of one. A pull-out would force Congress to search for other allies or continue as a minority government dependent on conditional support from other parties.

The coalition was not in danger of collapse even if the DMK ministers left because the party said it would continue to give conditional support to the government. But instability could hit any hopes of economic reforms.

There were signs that the two sides were closer to patching up as meetings continued on Tuesday, albeit without a quick resolution. The office of M.K. Alagiri, a senior DMK member who is leading the negotiations, told Reuters that DMK leaders were staying in Delhi to work out a compromise.

“We have more talks continuing into this evening. You will have to wait until then. We have 4-5 more hours today,” T.K.S. Elangovan, DMK party spokesperson, told reporters.

The intervention of Congress head Sonia Gandhi, India`s most powerful politician who normally stays above the fray, signalled a far greater intent for the ruling party to forge a consensus.

“This is nothing more than hard bargaining for seats so natural in an alliance, just muscle flexing. It`s not a major issue,” an unnamed Congress official told The Hindu newspaper.

Ties between the Congress and the DMK have been strained since former telecoms minister A. Raja, a DMK member, was fired for selling 2G telecom licences at low prices which an audit said had cost the government up to $39 billion.

The Congress party spokesman said there was no sign of a breakthrough so far, with a possible rapprochement being steered by Congress minister and senior negotiator Ghulam Nabi Azad.

“There is no development so far. If anything comes out we will let you know,” Janardan Dwivedi said by phone.

Congress could also seek support from other regional groups to boost its numbers in parliament as few parties, including the BJP, wanted an election more than three years ahead of schedule.

Analysts said it looked increasingly likely Congress and the DMK would patch things up, as each was weaker without the other.

Singh`s coalition has 273 members in the 545-seat lower house of parliament. The Samajwadi Party has said it would consider supporting the coalition if it was approached.

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