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A meeting of minds? Or a bouquet of questions?

By N Sathiya Moorthy
January 28, 2015 14:18 IST
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The Jaya-Jaitley meeting poses more questions than answers -- and not just for the Tamil Nadu BJP, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

The January 18 meeting between Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and J Jayalalithaa at the former Tamil Nadu chief minister's Poes Garden bungalow in Chennai has raised more questions than answers -- particularly for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party/National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

The questions are not confined to Tamil Nadu politics, but to the politics that helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi sweep the parliamentary polls.

Jaitley described the 40-minute meeting as a 'courtesy call.'

Confused state BJP leaders, whom party President Amit Shah had re-enthused to work harder only that very morning, said it was too much of a coincidence and too much of a courtesy call for them to understand and stomach.

They confess that neither Shah, nor M Venkaiah Naidu, or any other central BJP leaders who were in the city for a wedding had indicated a Jaitley-Jaya meeting was scheduled for later in the day.

The national BJP leadership has not explained the meeting satisfactorily, other than indicating in private that it had to do with seeking the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham's support in the Rajya Sabha for converting pending ordinances into law.

Jaitley is the first VIP Jayalalithaa met after obtaining Supreme Court-ordered bail in the 'wealth case.'

The Opposition in the state, starting with the rival DMK, has questioned the propriety of a Union minister calling on a convicted leader pending an appeal.

Just ahead of the Bengaluru trial court verdict that went against her, the Opposition had questioned the propriety of Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Venkaiah Naidu calling on Jayalalithaa, then the chief minister.

DMK leader M Karunanidhi, among others, also questioned the motive behind the income-tax department, under Jaitley's care as finance minister, going in for a settlement with Jaya at a very late stage in a pending trial in a Chennai criminal court a month earlier, and the coincidence of the subsequent meeting.

The tax settlement should be reported to the Supreme Court, which had ordered fast-tracking of the hearing years ago.

The Jaitley-Jaya meeting came just as the state BJP, encouraged by the national leadership, launched an all-out campaign against the ruling party, seeking to discredit the AIADMK and its rival DMK ahead of the 2016 state assembly election, in a bid to become a force to reckon with in 'Dravidian' Tamil Nadu.

Initially, the Jaya-Jaitley meeting confused the state BJP, and the leadership did not know whether or not to field a candidate against the AIADMK in the February 13 by-election for the Srirangam assembly seat declared vacant after Jayalalithaa's conviction by a Bengaluru court.

The party has since fielded a candidate, N Subramaniam, indicating in a way a two-track approach to politics and governance.

The BJP does not expect to win Srirangam, but it will be interesting to note whose vote the party splits, and by how much -- whether of the traditionally 'BJP-sympathetic' AIADMK, or of the Opposition DMK, or both.

For now, state BJP leaders claim to have saved face by contesting against the AIADMK after targeting it on the political front. Yet, confusion remains if the state BJP will be allowed to contest the 2016 assembly election on its own, or in the AIADMK's company -- if the latter so desired.

"Indecision and confusing signals," says a state BJP leader, "can cost us 'Modi votes'."

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Chennai Chapter, Observer Research Foundation.

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