One the first congratulatory calls AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa got after her acquittal in the disproportionate assets case by the Karnataka High Court this morning was from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It may seem unusual for a Prime Minister to promptly greet a former CM acquitted in a corruption case but the call wasn’t exactly a surprise given the context of their history — and the possibilities in the future.
As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi attended her swearing-in ceremony in 2011 and Jayalalithaa reciprocated by flying to Ahmedabad in 2012 when Modi took oath as Gujarat CM for the fourth time. She was also the first non-BJP CM to extend her support to Modi’s prime ministerial candidature in 2013.
For Modi, Jayalalithaa and her party minus the corruption shadow could be valuable given the NDA’s need to add to its tally in Rajya Sabha where much of its legislative reform agenda is currently stalled. The AIADMK has 37 MPs in Lok Sabha and 11 in the Upper House.
Political developments during the last week also indicate that Modi and the BJP have walked quite a distance in reaching out to allies and other regional or smaller parties.
After meeting Samajwadi party chief Mulayam Singh in the national capital, Modi went out of his way to reach out to West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress during his visit to the state last weekend. Sharing the stage with her, he underlined what he called the need for “Team India” which he defined as a synonym for strong PM-CM and Centre-state alliances.
Jayalalithaa has never hidden her friendship with Modi. When he was elevated as Chairman of the BJP’s Election Campaign Committee for 2014 Lok Sabha polls at the Goa conclave, Jayalalitha had said: “..but at a personal level, Modi is a very good friend of mine, I have high regard for him as an able administrator. My good wishes are always with him whether he wins election in Gujarat or achieves an elevation in his own party. I’m happy for him.”
But on the eve of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, political ambition cast a shadow on this equation. While Modi was steadily gaining ground in his campaign as the next PM, Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK pitched her against him by raising questions like who is a better administrator.
Declaring itself as Red Fort Express and calling New Delhi its destination — posters popped up across Tamil Nadu pitching her as the PM — the AIADMK did not go for an alliance with the BJP. And the BJP’s attempts to cobble a coalition with smaller parties in Tamil Nadu could not survive until polling day.
So far, the AIADMK has not taken an overtly hostile approach towards the NDA government in Parliament. But, of late, it has tended to stay with the Opposition united under the Congress leadership on demanding Parliamentary scrutiny of key reform-oriented bills. In the BJP’s search for formidable partners in the south — party chief Amit Shah has named Tamil Nadu as one state where he wants to see the BJP grow — AIADMK could be its first choice.