Prime Minister Narendra Modi met DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi at his residence here on Monday. While the meeting was described as a courtesy call and positive gesture, BJP sources said it could have wider implications for the party’s plans for the 2019 general elections. As Modi arrived at the Gopalapuram residence, he was welcomed at the entrance by DMK working president M K Stalin and MP Kanimozhi. They accompanied him to the main hall where the wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi was waiting for his guest.
“Modi spent 12 minutes at Gopalapuram,” said a senior DMK leader, adding that Modi was the only PM in the last five decades who had not visited Gopalapuram to meet Karunanidhi (93). “It doesn’t have any political significance,” the leader said, adding that the party and family appreciated the positive gesture.
Amid the pleasantries, the PM extended Karunanidhi an invitation to Delhi. “Modi invited Kalaignar to his Delhi residence. Stalin translated this to Karunanidhi,” said a senior DMK leader.
After Modi left, Karunanidhi was seen coming out in his wheelchair along with Stalin and waving to followers gathered outside the house.
Stalin, who was in Dubai with his family, rushed back to Chennai Sunday midnight after Modi’s plan to visit Karunanidhi was confirmed. According to sources in the DMK and BJP, it was Sabareesan, Stalin’s son-in-law, who facilitated Modi’s visit after his reported talks with BJP president Amit Shah.
“Talks were going on for almost a week since the PM’s Chennai visit was finalised,” said a senior BJP leader, adding that it was nothing but a positive gesture. “At a time when we are being seen as a guardian angel of the AIADMK, he should be fielding a neutral image,” said the leader, adding that there were no political talks with DMK today.
Indicating that the meeting between Modi and Karunanidhi could have wider political implications, BJP sources said that it was not only to break the ice between the two but also “keep the windows open” for 2019, they added. “Karunanidhi had supported the BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and it was a mature and stable relationship. He may be in Opposition but he is a respected leader. The PM meeting and enquiring about his well-being is to send a good message. The PM is a leader above parties,” BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, in charge of Tamil Nadu, told The Indian Express.
The visit came amid speculation that the ruling AIADMK, which is facing intense factionalism, could join the NDA. “But with AIADMK losing popularity and facing internal crisis, BJP does not want to close its options in Tamil Nadu,” said a BJP leader from the state.
The BJP is focusing on the southern and eastern states with a view that it would find it difficult to repeat its spectacular performance in northern and western states in the next Lok Sabha polls. Political observers said the feedback from the southern states could have prompted the BJP to soften its approach to the DMK, in spite of its indication that it could go with the Congress ahead of the next election.
Leaders pointed out that in the last elections, the difference between the votes polled by AIADMK and DMK was only around 2 lakh. “Besides, the DMK’s electoral prospects are brighter as of now,” added a BJP leader.
However, at a recent Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, Karunanidhi’s daughter and DMK MP M Kanimozhi, when asked about BJP finding space in Tamil Nadu, said: “Tamil Nadu is very clear about certain things — its stand on religion, language, the Tamil identity and social justice. A party that does not accept these cannot find space in the state.” After the PM-Karunanidhi meeting, a statement from DMK headquarters reiterated the plan to observe November 8, the first anniversary of demonetisation, as Black Day. Protests in eight districts were postponed due to rain, it said.