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PM Narendra Modi 'Shops' for 2019 Ally in Tamil Nadu

VVP Sharma @vvemuri

Updated: November 7, 2017, 5:02 PM IST
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PM Narendra Modi 'Shops' for 2019 Ally in Tamil Nadu
Chennai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the ailing DMK President M Karunanidhi in Chennai on Monday. DMK Working President M K Stalin, senior party leader Durai Murugan and other leaders are also present. (Image: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is shopping for an ally in Tamil Nadu for the 2019 general elections.

His 10-minute meeting with DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on Monday is a modest attempt in this direction.

Tamil Nadu has tested Modi like no other. State after state fell to his magic since 2014, but the Tamil bastion has remained enigmatically unfazed by his charm. That, perhaps, is what brings Modi to Chennai frequently.

Modi’s meeting with Karunanidhi, is being termed a courtesy call. It is also being seen as a red herring with Modi deciding to test political waters in the state.

But the event itself undoubtedly signals a face-to-face between two astute political minds who are very much aware of each other’s wants and weaknesses.

Amid all the rain in Chennai and the flooding, Modi took time off to visit the Gopalapuram residence of the 93-year-old former chief minister who wants but one wish fulfilled: To see his successor and son Stalin on the chief minister’s chair which he himself ascended to for the first time nearly 50 years ago.

Modi, too, has a wish: To see his BJP win at least 10 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu in 2019. The victory, among other factors, primarily hinges on who its regional ally, between DMK and AIADMK is. In 2014, the BJP, without aligning with either party, won from Kanyakumari (Pon Radhakrishnan who is a minister at the Centre) and came second in Coimbatore (CP Radhakrishnan).

In the short term, Modi may have wanted to smoothen the DMK’s ruffled feathers. State BJP and DMK leaders have of late been involved in a literal war of words so much so that the DMK announced its resolve to observe November 8 – the first anniversary of demonetization – as a black day. Modi’s visit did have an impact; the DMK cancelled the protest on Tuesday.

The state BJP has other concerns that it thinks the Modi visit will resolve. A section of the leadership is worried of the general perception that the BJP was remote-controlling the ruling faction of the AIADMK. This section feels that the perception may lead to the BJP being seen as an opportunist – something that would not bode well for it when the elections come calling. This section feels the Modi-Karuna meeting might right the imbalance in perception.

In the medium term, the BJP, which tried every which way to get the AIADMK into the NDA fold post-Jayalalithaa, is beginning to see the flip side. Their association is beginning to rankle. The factionalism within the regional party is deepening by the day. There is no one, popular, powerful face any longer. The ruling faction is feeling the people’s wrath already. The Congress is snapping it at its heels. The DMK is waiting in the wings. And nextGen thespians like Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan are thinking of jumping into the political fray. Cornered thus, the AIADMK (which one?) doesn’t sound like an ideal ally for 2019?

Such a backdrop lends credence to the “shopping” analogy. In the very least, the perception has emerged since yesterday that the BJP is keeping its options open. But it is hasty to conclude that the DMK is coming into the NDA fold today or tomorrow. That’s not so easy. Karunanidhi realizes he needs to be sane and sharp if Stalin has to become chief minister.

From his point of view, what would the DMK gain by aligning with the BJP in 2019? It will get a share in power at the Centre, but at the cost of the minority vote which has the potential to make the difference for the DMK in the 2021 assembly elections. What if Karunanidhi is not in a position to contribute anything in 2021? Stalin may be a cool customer, but he lacks in experience. What happens once the 2G scam verdict is out in December? Karunanidhi’s advisors already wonder if he will not end up bearing the heaviest brunt of the verdict.

When it comes to the DMK, Modi will remember how the BJP mistakenly went with AIADMK in 2004 against all rational advice and came up with a naught in Tamil Nadu. Of course, Modi clearly remembers how Jayalalithaa herself was never a truthful ally as evidenced in the Vajpayee government losing power in 1998. Of course, both instances involved Atal Behari Vajpayee. What’s more, Modi would also remember that unlike Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi never maintained even a formal relationship with the BJP after withdrawing from the NDA. But then, what’s politics if it’s not about strange, even stranger, bed fellows.
First Published: November 7, 2017, 5:02 PM IST

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