Competing for space in a state where the plight of Lankan Tamils still has resonance, the DMDK founder and Opposition leader in the Assembly, Vijayakanth, initially asked Modi to reconsider the decision, but later did a U-turn.
“The invitation was extended not only to the Sri Lankan president but to the heads of all eight SAARC countries. All the countries, including the enemy State of the whole of India, Pakistan, are taking part in the ceremony. If President Rajapaksa were the one only guest, we would certainly have boycotted it,” Vijayakanth said.
He said when he met Modi the last time, the PM-designate assured him he would solve the Lankan Tamils issue and address problems of fishermen from Tamil Nadu.
He added that just like the AIADMK had been given six months before criticism was raised against the government, the Modi administration, too, should be given the same time period.
Vijayakanth’s party does not have a single member in either House, but his support, which comes after three days of silence, is more political than numerical since several NDA allies have opposed the invitation to Rajapaksa.
Tamil Nadu CM and AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa has threatened to boycott the function and warned this could affect the relationship between the Centre and the state. DMK president M Karunanidhi has also demanded that the invitation be recalled.
At a time when the Lankan president’s presence is being questioned by even the Congress, Vijayakanth has taken a calculated political risk by backing Modi.
Since the national party has a limited electoral presence in Tamil Nadu, it needs a personality who can attract votes, at least during initial election cycles.
In return, Vijayakanth can hope to gain from the traction he enjoys with the Centre to position himself as a viable alternative to the AIADMK and DMK. The next Assembly election is less than two years away, and if his party hopes to capitalise on DMK’s struggles, it needs the extra-push a friendly PM could provide.