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Narendra Modi's 'courtesy' visit to DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi sent politically loaded messages

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s home was brief, and lasted for only about 15 minutes. But it sent several politically loaded messages to all concerned.

When Modi arrived to meet the ailing DMK supremo and his family members, what they discussed was relatively less important. What was important was that after all these years, the supreme leader of the ruling BJP made a conscious effort to reach its erstwhile Tamilian partner. It is immaterial whether even a word on the current political situation or politics in general was uttered during that brief interaction. In politics, a beginning is made through small gestures. By landing up at Karunanidhi’s doorstep, Modi has broken the ice and thawed a chill which had lasted about a decade-and-half in the relationship between the DMK and BJP. It would be wishful to look for an immediate shift of stance by the BJP and the DMK. Gains and losses would be weighed much later, in the months and years to come.

M Karunanidhi, the 93-year-old five-time chief minister of Tamil Nadu, is one of seniormost political leaders in the country. The Prime Minister visiting him at his residence to know of his health conditions and wish him well would at the outset appear to be about political courtesy. But given the political climate and ever changing political alignments and realignments, Modi’s move could be taken as more than extending political courtesy and due dignity to the DMK patriarch. More so because most regional parties, including the DMK, function like private limited companies. The leadership in the party is decided by heredity and legacy, than being decided by a democratic process.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with DMK chief M Karunanidhi. Twitter/@narendramodi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with DMK chief M Karunanidhi. Twitter/@narendramodi

Karunanidhi's son and political heir MK Stalin and Kanimozhi displayed much warmth on the arrival of PM Modi, and the latter reciprocated it. This could be seen from the way the prime minister slowed down a bit while walking inside the house to let Stalin join him. Inside, Karunanidhi’s wives Dayalu Ammal and Rajathi Ammal were there to greet the prime minister. One cannot be sure when Karunanidhi and Modi met last, or if Stalin and Modi had met earlier. From the television visuals, they all looked warm and cheerful.

Modi’s visit to Karunanidhi’s home in Chennai may have come as surprise to the nation. However, this must have been carefully planned well in advance, with all possible permutations and combinations thought of. The fact that Modi was accompanied by the defence minister, who belongs to the state, as also another prominent party leader from Tamil Nadu, and that all important members of the DMK's first family were also present, indicates that a window has been opened for the second rung leaders to have further exchanges.

Presently, the DMK is one of the most consistent allies of the Congress party. It has been the Congress’s ally for the last 17 years and Kanimozhi was by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s side representing the DMK in all the meetings that the Congress held against the Modi government and the BJP on demonetisation,the presidential and vice-presidential elections. In fact, the Congress leadership would have very closely watched and intensely scrutinised the possible implications of Modi’s visit to the DMK chief's residence and the bonhomie displayed there by both sides. Though Rahul Gandhi had met Kanimozhi and Stalin on several occasions, a picture like the one which came out from Chennai today had been missing for the Congress.

The DMK had been the BJP’s ally and as such was a part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government at the centre. But in December 2003, the DMK parted ways from the BJP and the NDA. The Tamilian party had its own set of grievances against the Vajpayee government. The party was angry with Vajpayee, with LK Advani and the BJP because despite having the best of relations with them, personal and political, they didn’t stand by their side when then chief minister J Jayalalithaa had unleashed a series of actions, which prima facie appeared to be part of vendetta politics. The Tamil Nadu police's midnight raid at Karunanidhi’s residence to arrest him, the injury to senior Maran in that incident and later the indiscriminate invoking of POTA by Jayalalithaa against rivals, including Vaiko and others, were some of these incidents.

Even as the DMK quit the NDA, Vajpayee maintained his personal equations with Murasoli Maran, visiting him in hospital when he was ill, and later attending Maran’s funeral. DMK was taken as a trusted ally by the BJP, but Vajpayee as the PM was not in a position to meet certain demands of  the DMK, including the dismissal of a popularly elected Jayalalithaa government. In 2004, DMK supported the Congress and the AIADMK supported the BJP. In the parliamentary elections that were held the same year, the AIADMK was wiped out and the DMK swept the polls.

Let us turn to the 2017 situation. The BJP is still inclined to the AIADMK and vice versa. Though they are not alliance partners, the BJP has given the Deputy Speaker's post in the Lok Sabha to AIADMK MP M Thambidurai. Modi and the late J Jayaliathaa shared a close personal rapport. Modi government is also supportive of Jalayalalitha’s successor in Tamil Nadu government. But it looks as though the BJP wants to keep options open for the future, for 2019 to be more specific.

A source in the ruling BJP said Modi’s decision to go and meet Karunanidhi is reflective of his vision and constant endeavor to open new frontiers on his own, or with the help of allies. One such manifestation of his sharp thought process came from the meeting in Chennai.

As it is, the BJP is in power in much of the north and west, and, for 2019, it needs to look to the south and east. This has been emphasised on many occasions by party chief Amit Shah. In the east, the BJP has now aligned with Nitish Kumar. In Assam, the BJP is now in a commanding position and is opening up in the north-east. In West Bengal and Odisha, the party is trying to fight on its own against the TMC and BJD, with some success. Down south in Andhra Pradesh, Modi has aligned with both the regional parties in Andhra Pradesh with Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy. The same is the case in Telangana. That leaves Tamilnadu and Kerala. It now appears that Modi wants to keep his options open for both the parties, DMK and AIADMK. In Kerala, it is putting all its might to stand on its own, the source contended.

Updated Date: Nov 07, 2017 06:59 AM

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