PM Modi meets DMK’s Karunanidhi in possible new gambit on Tamil Nadu politics
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met ailing Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M Karunanidhi in Chennai on Monday, in what experts called a possible move by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to reconfigure its political fortunes in the southern state.
The meeting assumes significance for two reasons. This is the first time a top BJP leader, and the Prime Minister at that, who has reached out to the DMK chief since the regional party walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 2004.
Second, the BJP had so far been cosying up to DMK’s rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam which is riven by factional feuds. Monday’s meeting is seen as part of the BJP’s strategy to keep channels of communication open with both poles of Tamil Nadu politics.
“This is a clear signal that both sides are showing flexibility when the political situation is fluid in the state,” said Chennai-based political commentator Sadanand Menon.
“The BJP… has walked the extra mile to be a party to this optics. For the DMK, a party out of power for quite some time, it is an important political recognition.”
The DMK and Congress party have been allies since 2004. So any deal between Karunanidhi’s party and the BJP could hurt the Congress in Tamil Nadu.
Modi drove to Karunanidhi’s Gopalapuram residence and inquired about the 93-year-old leader’s health in a visit that lasted about 20 minutes, sources said. Modi sat next to wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi, and held his hands.
“Met former Tamil Nadu CM, Thiru M Karunanidhi and enquired about his health .@kalaignar89,” Modi tweeted.
The meeting wasn’t on Modi’s agenda till Sunday night, although BJP sources said the Prime Minister’s Office was in touch with the DMK over the last couple of days. DMK’s working president MK Stalin, Karunanidhi’s son, who was traveling abroad, cut short his trip by a day and returned to Chennai to receive Modi.
Hours after the meeting, the DMK called off protests in eight districts scheduled on November 8 against the government’s recall of high-value banknotes last year. The party instead urged its workers to do relief work to help people devastated by the recent floods.
The meeting was described by both the BJP and the DMK as a “courtesy call” but triggered political ripples in a state roiled by political instability all year, especially over factional fights in the ruling AIADMK.
The DMK’s arch rival has struggled to close ranks since former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s death last December. Its former chief VK Sasikala is in jail on corruption charges but several MLAs are still loyal to her and her nephew, ousted party deputy general secretary TTV Dinakaran.
“The prime minister is sending a strong message. As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the BJP is still not a strong force,” said one senior DMK leader on condition of anonymity.
“By extending this courtesy, they hope to convince the people of Tamil Nadu that they indeed respect Tamil Nadu’s leaders and thereby gain some goodwill.”
Monday’s meeting is also a dramatic reversal from Karunanidhi’s birthday celebrations this June when the DMK omitted the BJP from a string of national leaders invited.
Modi was accompanied by state governor Banwarilal Purohit, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of state for shipping Pon Radhakrishnan and state BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan.
Soundararajan told reporters that the prime minister invited Karunanidhi to visit Delhi. DMK leaders, including Kanimozhi, who is the daughter of Karunanidhi and a Rajya Sabha MP, were among those present during the meeting.
The BJP is readying its battleplan for the general elections in 2019 and is looking towards southern India to offset any setbacks in central and northern India, where the BJP swept in 2014.
Tamil Nadu accounts for 39 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP holds just one.