Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa on Friday as he touched down in Chennai for an official visit that is also politically significant.
Jayalalithaa, who has not been seen in public for several weeks, reportedly due to health reasons, drove down to the airport to meet Modi before he launched the first National Handloom Day celebration.
On the occasion of National Handloom Day, Modi will confer the Sant Kabir awards and national awards for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 to distinguished handloom personalities in an event organised by the Union textiles ministry at the Madras University auditorium.
But the interest is more on his luncheon meeting with Jayalalithaa at her Poes Gardens residence after the event. On the menu, there are south and north Indian vegetarian dishes, but politically the flavours are to said to come closer.
Modi would be seeking an active cooperation of the AIADMK, the third largest party in the current Lok Sabha after the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Congress, and more crucially its support in Rajya Sabha where the BJP is in a minority and facing difficulties in getting key legislations passed.
Sources indicated a dialogue between the two parties for a possible tie-up for the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, due before May next year. The BJP, which has had an alliance with smaller parties, is facing trouble within its grouping with at least two parties eyeing the chief minister's post.
The PMK, one of its allies, has already announced its chief ministerial candidate and Captain Vijayakanth wants to lead the alliance in Tamil Nadu. Sources said Vijayakanth, now leading an anti-liquor protest, had sought an appointment with the PM but was not granted one.
"Though it is too early to say anything definitive of which way poll alliances would work out, Prime Minister Modi's meeting with Jayalalithaa sure would set off the process of realignment of political forces within Tamil Nadu," said Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University.
Sources in the BJP also said they are hoping that an alliance with the AIADMK could, in the long run, give the saffron party a chance to set up a firm base in Tamil Nadu that has been dominated by the two Dravidian majors for the last five decades. Ever since the Congress was ejected from the state in the late sixties, no national party has come within a striking distance of power in Tamil Nadu, shared alternatively between the DMK and the AIADMK.
Jayalalithaa, who is immensely popular among the people and also commands a base because of her welfare programmes branded as Amma, is looking set to upset the political cycle in the state and enter the race for a second consecutive term as the chief minister.
The DMK is down and out and Congress, barring one candidate after all its 38 candidates lost deposits in the 2014 general elections, is nowhere in the picture. With the anti-AIADMK vote splitting in three or four different ways, Jayalalithaa's party stands a reasonably better chance to put up a winning show.
Giant cutouts, big posters, buntings and banners in BJP's colours greeted the PM as his convoy passed through the route along the Chennai airport and Madras University. An assortment of BJP leaders from the state has also put up welcome banners and posters hailing Modi as the man of many missions and architect of a newer, cleaner and better India.
At some places, the cut-outs and posters of Modi and Jayalalithaa were as close as a feet of each other and in others those of the PM surrounded the chief minister's cutouts, both basking in the mild sun on a cloudy day.