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ANALYSIS | Why PM Modi's Meeting with Karunanidhi is More Than a Mere Courtesy Call

The last time Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Chennai was to attend the funeral of J Jayalalithaa. That was the winter of 2016 when a grieving Tamil Nadu was bidding adieu to its Chief Minister.

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:November 6, 2017, 11:20 PM IST
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ANALYSIS | Why PM Modi's Meeting with Karunanidhi is More Than a Mere Courtesy Call
PM Narendra Modi with ailing DMK President M Karunanidhi and M K Stalin in Chennai on Monday. (Image: Twitter)
Politics, they say, is like weather. Sometimes it’s predictable but then there are moments when one doesn’t know what will happen few hours down the line.

The last time Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Chennai was to attend the funeral of J Jayalalithaa. That was the winter of 2016 when a grieving Tamil Nadu was bidding adieu to its Chief Minister.

The state has seen two chief ministers since then and AIADMK has been through a whirlwind. Though things have been relatively calm in Chennai in the last couple of months, but a storm seems to be brewing. Two of the state’s biggest film stars — Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — are set to enter politics.

Monsoon has been unpredictable in Tamil Nadu. There was record rain in August when BJP chief Amit Shah was slated to visit the state for three days to settle down the leadership issue. But Shah’s visit got postponed indefinitely.

Rains have once again flooded the streets of Chennai, exposing how fragile the city is. And in this backdrop, PM Modi landed at Chennai airport on Monday morning. After being briefed on the situation arising due to floods and assuring the chief minister of central assistance, he participated in the platinum jubilee celebrations of a Tamil newspaper.

But the pivotal moment came when Modi met 93-year-old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patron M Karunanidhi at his Gopalapuram residence. The state BJP unit was quick to clarify that the short, 10-minute-long to be precise, meeting was only a courtesy call by the Prime Minister to the senior-most Tamil leader. “Nothing much should be read into the visit,” state BJP leader Narayanan Tirupathy told News18.

Karunanidhi’s son and DMK President MK Stalin and his daughter Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP, welcomed the PM. And while leaving, Modi waved at the fans, some of whom shouted slogans calling for a BJP-DMK alliance.

Requesting anonymity, a top BJP leader said, “The party needs an ally in Tamil Nadu for 2019 elections. The PM is keeping his options open.” So far there seems to be no end to the differences between former CM O Panneerselvam and the siting CM E Palaniswami. The warring factions might have stopped issuing statements against each other, but the fight for Jayalalithaa’s legacy is still on with V K Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran still having an influence over sizeable number of MLAs.

“There will be a strong anti-incumbency against AIADMK in 2019. The state is not being governed well,” said the BJP leader, highlighting that DMK was part of NDA-I under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In 1999, when elections were called after the AIADMK quit NDA, DMK won 26 out of 39 seats and joined the Vajpayee-led government. A year before that, it was AIADMK which had swept the polls winning 30 out of 39 seats in alliance with BJP. In 2004, the rainbow coalition of Congress-DMK-PMK-MDMK had won all 39 seats. In 2009, the state had again voted for the DMK-Congress alliance, giving it 27 seats. In all Parliamentary elections since 1977, Tamil Nadu has given a decisive mandate.

Trying to get a toehold in the Dravidian politics, the BJP is trying to read which way the wind is blowing. On the one hand BJP top leaders, including Nitin Gadkari and RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy have reached out to superstar Rajinikanth, on the other, the Prime Minister paid a visit to Karunanidhi.

Gadkari, in an interview to News18 in May, had said “Rajinikanth is welcome in politics and it is my request to him to think about the BJP. There is an appropriate place for him in the BJP.” The party’s initial understanding was that after the demise of Jayalalithaa the political vacuum could be filled by a tall figure like Rajinikanth. But the superstar has taken his own sweet to time to test the waters before taking a plunge.

Historically, cine superstars have enjoyed greater acceptability in public life. That explains Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan’s expected political foray.

TN political analyst RK Radhakrishnan says “DMK-BJP have been at loggerheads and this meeting shows that there is some attempt to be in talks. It may not transform into an alliance, but it’s a message to OPS and EPS that there are other options before the BJP.”

At the time of writing this report, flood waters in Chennai had begun to recede, but the PM’s visit has kicked up a fresh political storm.

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| Edited by: Mirza Arif Beg
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