In the morning, the DMK issued a red-alert. It would not hesitate to pull out of the UPA coalition if last week's increase in petrol prices were not rolled back, announced party leader M Karunanidhi to a cheering crowd of supporters in Chennai. By the afternoon, the 88-year-old leader had confirmed what everyone knew all along - that this was just an empty threat, aimed at distancing his party from an unpopular decision taken by the Centre.
"I have only said that we have walked out the government earlier," said Mr Karunanidhi, referring to his party's decision to quit the BJP-led government in 2003. "We will remain in the alliance with bitterness," he said, adding that with the elections for the President of India scheduled for July, he would not like to rock the UPA boat. The timing of the DMK protest was also not entirely guileless - oil companies have hinted that a cut in nearly Rs 2 is likely if global crude prices and the rupee stabilise at current levels. If that happens, the DMK can sell the cut in prices as a rollback which it fought for politically.
Last week's increase of nearly Rs. 7.50 made this the country's steepest-ever rise in petrol prices.
"Don't push us further," Mr Karunanidhi had warned the government that his party participates in on Wednesday morning. "The DMK will not hesitate to walk out of the UPA to protest anti-people policies," he said.
But almost immediately, his own party and the Congress, which leads the UPA coalition, indicated this was just public posturing. "We have not said we are pulling out...we have been talking to the Congress," said DMK leader Khushboo.
Demonstrating the fact that this could be a more a case of posturing than anything else, she said, "We welcome the decision (to warn the UPA). It is long-awaited." Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury described the DMK as a "mature ally" and said her party appreciates the local "compulsions" that have provoked Mr Karunanidhi's statement.
The decision to increase prices has been attacked by other allies like Mamata Banerjee as well as the Samajwadi Party, which provides external support to the UPA. Ms Banerjee deviated from established form to say that she will not quit the government over the price hike because she does not want to create political instability.
Mr Karunanidhi's warning is being read as little more than an attempt to distance his party from an unpopular policy move in Delhi. The DMK is not in power in Tamil Nadu. It cannot afford to have no clout at the Centre, either, given that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and her government have been pinning corruption and other cases against many senior DMK members.
The DMK stand today does create a new public relations crisis for the Congress, which has clashed publicly with its key allies on a slew of issues recently. Yesterday, Defence Minister AK Antony also expressed his unhappiness with the new petrol prices. The Congress has said that it was not consulted by the government ahead of the hike.
Oil companies have hinted at a possible reduction of about Rs. 2 in petrol prices from next month if global oil prices and the rupee stabilise at current levels. Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy has said that diesel, LPG and kerosene prices will not be raised for now.