Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Chennai on Sunday to inaugurate and launch several infrastructure projects was viewed by political observers as a deft move of drumming up support in poll-bound South Indian states, such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the BJP is yet to make a significant mark. During the visit, the PM had inaugurated the extension of Phase 1 of the Chennai Metro Rail, the Discovery Campus for IIT-Madras, as well as handed over the Made in India battle tank Arjun to the Indian Army.
The visit was certainly indicative of the Centre’s attempt to appease Tamil Nadu in a crucial election year and apprise the state of the welfare measures adopted by the BJP on account of TN. A whole smorgasbord of populist measures was unveiled by the PM including approval of the request of the members of the Devendra Kula Velalars to be known by that name and not by the names of their sub-sects. A Bill to this effect would be passed in the upcoming Parliament session, the PM said. This announcement was made alongside the launch of several infrastructure projects in Tamil Nadu, including railway electrification projects as well as virtually laying the foundation stone for the modernisation of the Grand Anicut Canal System. Just last week, the Centre had offered cyclone relief to Tamil Nadu to an extent of Rs 286.91 cr, on account of the cyclones Nivar and Burevi.
But how will these moves translate to garnering a major share of the vote bank? Here in Tamil Nadu, senior leaders hailing from both the BJP as well as the AIADMK were slated to update Modi on the poll strategies being put in place for the upcoming Assembly Elections. The state’s poll in-charge of the BJP, CT Ravi had said on Saturday that seat-sharing modalities between the BJP-AIADMK combine would be discussed by the party’s core committee. He added that the BJP would fight the elections under the AIADMK’s leadership. These developments are taking place at an interesting time in TN’s political history. On one hand, we have the AIADMK, which has been ruffled by the arrival of a wildcard entrant, namely VK Sasikala, just in the nick of time for the polls. Having ruled out any possible alliance with Sasikala and the TTV Dhinakaran led-AMMK, the state Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar had referred to their camp being the B-Team of the DMK.
On the other hand, we also have the BJP, whose TN spokesperson had gone on record last week remarking that the party is open to the possibility of a regrouping of sorts between, the AIADMK and its breakaway faction, the AMMK. The obvious upside of an alliance is that the AIADMK will not have to split votes with the AMMK, which could be a game-changer of sorts, come election season when the parties brace to take on the other Dravidian major in the state. But it’s not an idea that has found favour with the ruling AIADMK as just recently the party expelled as many as seven party members for having welcomed Sasikala upon her return to Tamil Nadu.
For those who had borne witness to Sunday’s proceedings, the signs of a deepening camaraderie between Prime Minister Modi and CM Palaniswami were visible in clear relief. On a few occasions, during the meet, the PM proceeded to encouragingly pat Palaniswami on his shoulder, much like an old friend. His body language too seemed to be at ease with the CM, and it’s almost become second nature for Modi to now belt out Tamil verses of Bharathiyar with the ease of a veteran. If one has to go by that gesture, Modi had similarly conveyed his condolence to OPS in the aftermath of J Jayalalithaa’s passing, when he consoled the then CM in the manner of a patriarch. And like the patriarch that he has fashioned himself out to be, Modi might be more at ease to see the different party members set aside their differences, and make peace for the greater common good.