PM Modi during the inauguration of his memorial at Peikarumbu in Rameswaram. (PTI Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Rameshwaram on Thursday was marked by an unusual sight - the AIADMK black-red-white flags and the saffron BJP flags alternating on the roadside. It was a sign that many read as an indication of the reducing distance New Delhi and Chennai.
Since 2016, ahead of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the BJP had been courting Jayalalithaa - the chief of AIADMK - in an attempt to gain foothold in the state's closed-rank Dravidian politics. The alliance appeared natural from Delhi - given the DMK's tie-up with the Congress. But Jayalalithaa had aggressively kept her independence, despite rooting for Narendra Modi's projection as the Prime Ministerial candidate three years ago.
Speculations about a change in Chennai's stance began after Jayalalithaa's death in December last year, when PM Modi was photographed consoling O Panneerselvam -- the Jayalalithaa loyalist who took oath hours after her death -- and her long-time aide VK Sasikala.
The government of E Palaniswami that came to power after a two-month political upheaval in the state had been busy trying to keep afloat, given the split within the party following Sasikala's bid for power and the rebellion by Mr Paneerselvam.
Mr Pannerselvam's bid to get his faction declared by the real AIADMK by the Election Commission is currently on hold. But with Sasikala in jail in a corruption case and the several leaders and ministers - including Chief Minister Palaniswami - under income tax department's radar, the crisis in the party is far from over.
"We miss Jayalalithaa... We are ready to co-operate with the Tamil Nadu government. We will do anything for you," the Prime Minister said today in his address at the Kalam Memorial, sharing stage with the Chief Minister. The Rs 20-crore edifice, whose entrance resembles Delhi's India Gate, was built with Central help over the last one year on a field that was initially the grazing ground of the local cows.
The AIADMK has 37 lawmakers in the Lok Sabha and 13 in Rajya Sabha, the Upper house of Parliament. A tie-up will stack up the BJP numbers in Rajya Sabha, where it is still in minority. Yesterday, the party cobbled up an alliance with Nitish Kumar, the Chief of JDU and formed the government in Bihar - a state it had lost in the election held less than two years ago.
Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan, however, denied that a tie-up in Tamil Nadu is anywhere in sight. "No it should not be seen that way. That is politics and this is different. We want to develop Tamil Nadu" he said.