The former largest ally of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ruled out reconciliation after it quit the coalition over policy toward alleged war atrocities in Sri Lanka, increasing the government’s fragility as it seeks to boost a slowing economy.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which had earlier vowed to withdraw its support to Singh’s administration, late yesterday formally notified President Pranab Mukherjee of its decision to leave. The move means Singh is now as many as 44 seats short of the halfway mark in the lower house of parliament and more reliant on fickle regional parties outside the ruling alliance to win the passage of legislation.
“There is no question of us reconsidering our decision,” said T.K.S. Elangovan, spokesman of the DMK and a lawmaker in India’s parliament. “We have no choice but to withdraw, people are agitating, students are on streets and the government of India is not coming to the rescue of the people.”
Singh is battling to refocus the government ahead of an election in 2014, end two years of criticism over alleged corruption and repair a slowing economy. India’s economy, Asia’s third-largest, will expand at 5 percent this financial year, the slowest in a decade, hurt by cooling investment and a drop in exports.
Bills to extend opportunities for foreign investment in the pension and insurance industries are among those the government wants to pass. The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex fell 0.5 percent in Mumbai at 11:29 a.m. today, after dropping 1.5 percent yesterday. The rupee weakened 0.01 percent.
The standoff in India comes as the United Nations Human Rights Council prepares to vote this week on a U.S.-sponsored resolution calling on Sri Lanka to fully investigate alleged war crimes by its troops during the final weeks of the conflict with Tamil guerrillas in 2009.
Muthuvel Karunanidhi, DMK chief, is demanding India bring amendments to toughen the resolution to be presented in Geneva, and hold a vote in parliament to condemn Sri Lanka. Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a press conference today that the government was discussing both issues. The government will continue to pursue its legislative agenda to bolster the economy, he said.
The DMK is looking to reassert itself in its southern stronghold of Tamil Nadu after being routed by its main rival in 2011 elections to the regional assembly. Tamil Nadu shares cultural and religious ties with Sri Lankan Tamils.
“Karunanidhi was finding it very difficult to occupy the platform as the champion of Tamils,” said Cho Ramaswamy, a political analyst and the editor of the Tamil magazine, Thuglaq. After winning power, J. Jayalalitha, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has emerged as the leading proponent of the Tamil cause, he said. “Karunanidhi wants his crown back.”
A letter written by Karunanidhi withdrawing support of its lawmakers to the coalition was handed to the president yesterday, said party leader T.R. Baalu. DMK ministers will meet Singh today to submit their resignations, Elangovan said.
In an effort to heal the rift with the DMK, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi yesterday backed an independent probe into the “unspeakable atrocities” committed against civilians during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war. Using some of the strongest language by an Indian leader, she said that Tamils in Sri Lanka continue to be denied legitimate political rights.
“The plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka is very close to our hearts,” Gandhi said. Her husband the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber in 1991 as the group fought for a separate homeland in northern and eastern provinces of neighboring Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s military and Tamil Tiger fighters probably committed serious violations of international law in the final stages of their conflict, resulting in as many as 40,000 civilian deaths, a UN report released in April 2011 said.
Gandhi had dispatched her top three ministers, including Chidambaram and Defense Minister A.K. Antony, to talk with Karunanidhi in Chennai on March 18.
The DMK, which has 18 lawmakers in parliament’s lower house was one of nine coalition partners in the governing alliance. Without its support, Singh will be further reliant on the backing of groups like the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which compete for power in the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati speaking to reporters yesterday reiterated her support for the government. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said today that Singh’s administration was “absolutely stable.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com