Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke protocol and drove down to Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence for lunch on Friday signaling how much he values the relationship.
The two leaders, who share a cordial personal relationship, were closeted for some time before partaking in a simple vegetarian meal whipped up by chefs at Jayalalithaa’s residence and the Governor’s House.
The luncheon politics assumes significance at a time the ruling NDA is struggling to push through key economic reform legislations, including the GST bill and the land acquisition bill in Parliament. The AIADMK has 11 members in Rajya Sabha, and in Lok Sabha it is the third largest party with 37 members.
Jayalalithaa made full use of the opportunity and handed over a 21 page memorandum listing Tamil Nadu's demands -- including Cauvery river water sharing, safety of Tamil fishermen, Metro rail project, modernisation of police force and additional power - seeking help and cooperation from the Centre.
She is also believed to have expressed her displeasure over the Goods and Service Tax bill and sought a compensatory financial package.
Earlier in the day, Jayalalithaa drove down to the Chennai airport -- her first public apppearance in several weeks due to reported ill health -- to greet Modi as he arrived from Delhi. The prime minister then went to the Madras University Centenary Auditorium for the National Handloom Day function.
Modi was greeted at the doorstep when he arrived at 81, Poes Garden. After spending 40 minutes there, he went to call on veteran journalist and political commentator Cho Ramaswamy who has been keeping indifferent health. For the two leaders, the menu for lunch clearly included discussions on the political situation prevailing in the country.
Whether the AIADMK and the BJP would move closer together at the ground level in state politics, remains to be seen as it is surely too early to tell. But it would ignite the process of political realignment of forces on the ground.
Tamil Nadu politics, dominated by alliance chemistry on the ground level and the element of rivalry between the two Dravidian majors – AIADMK and the DMK – will see crystallisation of alliances only few months before the elections due in May 2016.
But as of now, the NDA formation led by the BJP has run into problems with a few of its constituents – PMK and DMDK giving strong indications of pulling in opposite directions.
While DMDK leader Vijayakanth wants himself to be the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance, PMK has already named Anbumani Ramadoss, former union minister as its CM face, angering the local BJP unit.
Union minister Pon Radhakrishan said, “No political meaning should be read into today’s visit, which was solely dedicated to the handlooms and weavers issue. Today a good event has taken place.”
BJP state president Tamilisai Soundarajan too avoided making any comment on the possibility of an alliance saying, “it is the duty of the responsible opposition to criticize the failures of the government, but good deeds are appreciated.”
AIADMK MLA N Sampath said that party supporters were hopeful that with this meeting, the Centre would be more helpful towards state problems. But whether they want an alliance with the BJP for state elections, “it would be decided by Amma at an appropriate time.”
Officially, nothing has been admitted by the two parties.
This meeting, coming after a year, is also crucial – as Modi wants AIADMK’s support in parliament. But when it comes to state politics, political observers and AIADMK leaders want to go it alone as the opposition is hoplessly divided.
Jayalalithaa, who enjoys good popularity on her own and due to her people-oriented welfare programmes branded under ‘Amma” could end the political cycle witnessed in Tamil Nadu by winning a second consecutive term.
The DMK is down , and the Congress nowhere in the picture --barring one, all its 38 candidates lost deposits in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
“Though it is too early to say anything definitive of which way poll alliances would work out, Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with Jayalalithaa could set off a process of realignment of political forces within Tamil Nadu,” said political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan.
Sources said Captian Vijayakanth, now leading an anti-liquor protest, had sought an appointment with the prime minister, which was not forthcoming.
On Friday, giant cutouts, big posters, buntings and banners in BJP colours greeted the Prime Minister as his convoy passed through the Chennai-Madras university route.
In some places, the cutouts and posters are as close as within one feet of each other, and in other places, surround Jayalalithaa’s cutouts.
Whether this indicates closer ties between the AIADMK and the BJP, only time will tell.