Till an hour before Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Chennai on Monday, the agenda was to attend Tamil daily Dina Thanthi’s platinum jubilee celebrations and attend the wedding of joint secretary in the PMO T.V. Somanathan’s daughter at Raja Annamalaipuram. As he landed, a tweet from P. Muralidhar Rao of the BJP brought to light the new addition in the prime minister’s programme throwing out surprises even to the DMK seniors. Most leaders of both the parties had no clue of the change in Modi's programme.
The new addition in the agenda, to call on the ailing DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi, at the latter’s Gopalapuram residence, added yet another dimension to the politics in Tamil Nadu which is already in a confused state of affairs. While the AIADMK has been split into various factions under Edappadi Palaniswami, O.Panneerselvam and T.T.V. Dhinakaran, and actors like Kamal Haasan are battling hard to take a giant step to get into politics and other superstars like Rajinikanth are getting “ready for a war”, Modi’s gesture to call on the octogenarian has taken many by surprise.
At the meeting which lasted just 10 minutes, Modi greeted Karunanidhi, but the latter responded with just a smile on his face. According to sources in the DMK, party's working president M.K. Stalin, who was in Dubai for an event and was set to proceed to London for a brief sojourn, had to abandon his trip and rush back to Chennai as Modi’s wish to call on his father was conveyed to him. Stalin flew back to Chennai in the wee hours of Monday and reached Gopalapuram just hours before Modi could reach.
As Modi alighted from his black colour Range Rover in front of the street house in Gopalapuram, Stalin and his sister Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi were all in smiles, welcoming him. Stalin was all over, shaking hands with Modi and standing next to Karunanidhi, making his father recall the past. Clad in his trademark, white dhoti and shirt, Stalin came out all the way to send off Modi, after the meeting. Dressed in a dark blue sari, Kanimozhi, too, welcomed Modi with a glee. The cheer among the crowd outside the Gopalapuram residence, as Modi alighted from the car, began hitting the air. The BJP and DMK cadres were amused at Modi’s gesture.
“There is no politics. It was a courtesy meet,” claimed DMK leaders. However, Modi’s visit to Gopalapuram for the first time, that too, at a time when the Tamil Nadu BJP is at loggerheads with the DMK, has earned all the political significance. In fact, BJP which has been facing a major image beating nationally after demonetisation and GST, and which could not manage to crawl into the good books of any of the AIADMK factions or the DMK, is now looking for a face saver in Tamil Nadu. In a politically instable state, Modi, is being touted as the only person behind all the confusions.
Apparently, Modi's meeting with Karunandihi was to neutralise the saffron party’s image in the state and to send out a message that it is not just for the AIADMK. Given the political ups and downs in the state since the death of Jayalalithaa in December last year, the AIADMK has been toeing the line of BJP, giving out an impression of the ministers being pawn under the NDA in Delhi. Off late, AIADMK minister Rajenthira Balaji even came out saying openly that “the EPS government will stay in power till Modi is in Delhi as our prime minister,” giving an image that BJP and AIADMK are natural allies. Besides, the allegations that Modi and his BJP have been stirring the factional feud within the AIADMK has earned more brickbats for the national party.
Al though the meeting might not hint at a possible BJP-DMK tie up, it would help the saffron party distance itself from the AIADMK. And within DMK, which has been vociferous against Modi and the BJP, this visit will help to tone down the tenor of the attack politically.
DMK, after a break, had crawled close to the Congress and managed to bring in like-minded parties like Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chirtuthaigal Katchi, Vaiko’s MDMK and S. Ramadoss’s PMK. A week before, Stalin’s detractors like Vaiko and Ramadoss called on Karunanidhi, only to tell the political observers in the state that when elections are round the corner, DMK can bring together an umbrella alliance to fight the factional AIADMK and its friendly BJP.
However, Sunday's meeting will slow down the coming together of the opposition. Interestingly, after the Dina Thanthi meeting, Modi walked down the dais to shook hands with Ramadoss and Vaiko.
Apparently, in this one year, after Karunanidhi fell ill due to a drug-induced allergy, none of the BJP leaders has called on him. Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, who was in Chennai on several official occasions during his tenure as a Union minister, did not choose to call on Karunanidhi.
In Jayalalithaa's case also, the prime minister had not visited the former chief minister during her stay in hospital, but came only to pay homage to her on December 6.