The Congress in Tamil Nadu is seething with rage. It feels humiliated by its own national Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. But it has no option but to grin and bear it.
Till 10 am on Friday, even its top office bearers had no inkling that Rahul was already airborne and entering Chennai airspace in an hour. In fact, most of them were not even told the purpose of his visit. They thought Chennai was just a transit and that he much be on his way to visit Puducherry, given the fact that it has a Congress government, till they found that was not the itinerary.
Leaders in Delhi were contacted to find out the reason for Rahul Gandhi coming to Chennai. General secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu Mukul Wasnik did not know, nor did senior leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram. It was close to 11.15 am when Rahul Gandhi landed in Chennai that the Congress leaders came to know that he was going to Apollo Hospital to enquire about Jayalalithaa's health.
Rahul Gandhi reached the hospital at 11.45 am, spent some 40 minutes there talking to doctors about Jayalalithaa's condition, peeped in through the glass door of the Critical Care unit where the chief minister has been admitted since 22 September, posed for a photograph with the medical team and left. Before leaving the hospital, he said that he wanted to "give maximum energy to Jayalalithaa ji so that she gets well soon''. Rahul then headed directly to the airport and went back to Delhi.
Tamil Nadu Congressmen were left looking foolish that their leader came visiting and did not meet any of them. He did not even meet M Karunanidhi, an ally of the Congress in Tamil Nadu.
"We were taken completely by surprise," said a senior Congress leader, not wanting to be identified. "We fail to understand why would he bypass the entire party. We are at a loss to understand what his plan is."
Leaders in Chennai are also surprised that Rahul flew into Chennai by a special aircraft, something they say, he does not do usually. Speculation is rife about whether the Congress leader made this flying visit at the prodding of someone politically powerful in Tamil Nadu.
It looks like Rahul Gandhi undertook this trip to send a message out to the political theatre in Tamil Nadu, and the BJP in particular. Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy has set the cat among the AIADMK pigeons by writing to the Union Home minister Rajnath Singh that President's rule should be imposed in Tamil Nadu for six months till such time that Jayalalithaa recovers fully. Swamy in his letter points out that IS sleeper cells have been activated in the southern districts because of an ad hoc administrative situation, leading to a bad law and order situation. Having come to power just four months back, central rule is not a scenario the AIADMK would like and the visit was Rahul Gandhi's way of conveying to the second rung leadership in AIADMK that the Congress will be on its side, should the BJP on Swamy's advice, get adventurous.
AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathi thanked Rahul Gandhi for his gesture pointing out that in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi had similarly flown to Chennai to call on Jayalalithaa. She had suffered injuries after having been attacked inside the Assembly. But the more important question this time is who in Saraswathi's party is confabulating directly with the top man in the Congress.
Sources indicate that a section of the AIADMK is a tad nervous and suspicious of Delhi's intentions. They are unhappy with Governor Vidyasagar Rao summoning senior ministers O Panneerselvam and EK Palaniswamy and chief secretary Rammohan Rao to discuss the state's position before the SC-appointed team on Cauvery. Though in hushed tones, they see this as the beginning of the Centre taking advantage of the CM's hospitalisation and interfering in matters of every day governance.
With talk of an interim CM or an acting CM to hold fort till Jayalalithaa is back, the AIADMK, split on caste lines, is witnessing a silent battle for supremacy taking place between the Thevar, Gounder and Nadar community MLAs.
Tamil Nadu Congressmen were left looking foolish that their leader came visiting and did not meet any of them. He did not even meet M Karunanidhi, an ally of the Congress in Tamil Nadu
The Thevar group in the AIADMK which is led by Sasikala, Jayalalithaa's trusted aide and Panneerselvam, suspect that the BJP could silently back Lok Sabha deputy speaker Thambidurai, who belongs to the Gounder community, as interim CM.
With S Thirunavukkarasar, a Thevar as the chief of its Tamil Nadu unit, which faction of the AIADMK the Congress will bend towards, is pretty obvious. Also Thirunavukkarasar has been a part of the AIADMK apparatus before, having worked with both MGR and Jayalalithaa and would find it easy to do business with the party, if that is the path that Rahul has in mind.
The flying visit is likely to seriously dent the alliance between the Congress and the DMK. Rahul has not called on Karunanidhi during his earlier visits to Tamil Nadu as well and that has been a grouse with the DMK supremo. Friday's visit, which will be interpreted as Rahul's overture to the AIADMK, will not be taken kindly. Ironic, considering just a few days before the two parties finalised seat-sharing for the local bodies elections.
In the age of number portability, it looks like Rahul Gandhi has decided to change the SIM card in the Congress handset in Tamil Nadu. Congress leaders only hope their party of a numerically insignificant eight MLAs will neither have to pay a hefty price for the change nor be out of the political network.