* Efforts to avert latest political crisis
* Regional group ministers to quit Monday
* Budget passage will be first test
By Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI, March 6 India's Congress party moved
to shore up its ruling coalition on Sunday after a key partner
said its ministers will formally quit the cabinet on Monday, the
latest setback for a government beset by corruption scandals.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government is not in
immediate threat of collapse because the Dravida Munnetra
Kazagham (DMK) party has said it will continue to offer
conditional support even after its six ministers leave because
of a row over local elections.
The Congress party, in addition, can seek support from other
regional groups to boost its numbers in parliament, as few want
to face an election more than three years ahead of schedule.
Still, the DMK's decision to quit the cabinet will further
hobble the government's ability to push through reforms, as it
becomes dependent on new pressure groups for support.
"The Congress has not got in touch with us. DMK Ministers
will submit their resignation letters tomorrow," T.R. Baalu, a
senior leader of the party said, rejecting reports that the two
sides were in talks to mend the alliance.
The Congress party made no immediate comment, and local TV
stations said top leaders would hold talks with party chief
Sonia Gandhi later on Sunday to plan the party's response to the
The coalition has been hit by a string of crises, including
corruption scandals, runaway inflation especially food inflation
which hit 18 percent in December and an opposition that has
blocked its reform agenda.
The scandals have eroded confidence in Singh's ability to
effectively lead Asia's third largest economy, and foreign
direct investment has fallen even though India remains one of
the world's fastest growing economies.
Singh last month said he was not a "lame duck" prime
minister, vowing to press forward with the party's reform
A source in the prime minister's office said there was no
threat facing the government following the move by the DMK which
had 18 members in India's 545-member lower house of parliament.
Political analysts say Congress may approach the northern
Samajwadi party, which has 22 MPs, to secure its majority in
The first test for the alliance will come during the current
session of parliament, when the government seeks approval of the
2011-12 federal budget.
The government would fall if it lost the budget vote.
Ties between the Congress and the DMK have been strained
since a massive telecoms licensing scandal involving a minister
of the DMK surfaced, deeply embarrassing Singh.
Concessions to run mobile networks in one of the world's
fastest growing markets were sold at rock-bottom prices by the
telecommunications ministry headed by A. Raja, a DMK member,
which an audit said had caused a loss of $39 billion.
Raja was sacked and is now in prison, but there is concern
that the federal investigation into the scandal may touch other
top leaders of the DMK which is led by strongman M. Karunanidhi
and members of his family.
"The DMK's move to break the alliance is not about
seatsharing. It is about the investigation into the 2G scandal,"
said political commentator Cho Ramaswamy referring to the sale
of mobile licenses.
The main opposition, which forced Singh to accede to its
demand for a parliamentary probe into the telecoms scam, has
stepped up attack on the ruling coalition.
"The alliance is wounded. The Congress and the DMK have
become a liability for themselves," said Arun Jaitly, a leader
of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
(Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
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