In the first public rally he attended along with the leaders of the AIADMK-led pre-poll alliance partners, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went out of his way to play to the Tamil pride gallery.
“Whenever any Tamil has faced problems, we have been at the forefront to help them,” said Modi on Wednesday, describing the government’s keen interest in protecting the state and its people.
The PM evoked a potpourri of images – former Chief Minister M G Ramachandran, Sri Lankan Tamils, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and the rescue of Fr. Alexis Premkumar – to say that his government prioritised the welfare of Tamil-speaking people everywhere.
Modi then went on to beat the Congress with that stick: he said that the Congress would take decisions regarding Tamil Nadu sitting in air-conditioned rooms in Delhi while the BJP will ensure that such decisions are taken in Tamil Nadu’s villages.
All this was said while studiously ignoring another day on which #GoBackModi and #GoBackSadistModi trended on Twitter; sadist being the term DMK president M K Stalin used to describe the Prime Minister on December 16.
Stalin’s jibe was in reference to the PM’s absence from the state in the devastating aftermath of November 2018 Cylone Gaja. Modi, who had visited the state in April 2018 to black flags, black balloons and #GoBack hashtags, returned almost 10 months later. That January-end 2019 visit was to lay the foundation stone of the Madurai AIIMS but was also part of his pre-poll campaign route. Since then, the Prime Minister has visited the state four times in less than 45 days; he has delivered pre-poll speeches at all events.
On Wednesday, all that was forgotten: the PM began his speech by highlighting that he had just inaugurated multiple infrastructure projects in the state; he followed it up with the announcement of the renaming of Chennai Central Station after MGR – whom he called a ‘son of the soil;’ and by saying that his government was ‘considering’ Tamil announcements in flights in and out of Tamil Nadu.
Modi also hailed Tamil language, saying it was the oldest living classical language.
Drawing deeper into the Tamil sentiment, he also highlighted the fact that he was the only PM to have visited Jaffna in Sri Lanka, which was the epicentre of the Tamil conflict in the country, to meet the Tamilians settled there.
Even as he threw in the refrain, or the tag line, Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas, he was quick to add that the ‘bond of humanity is bigger’, recounting the rescues – the one involving Father Alexis Prem Kumar, from Herat in Afghanistan, where he was held captive for around eight months.
Reiterating the commitment of the state towards the welfare of fisher folk, he also stressed the government’s involvement in the release of 1900 Tamil fishermen, a few of them on death sentence, after talks with the Sri Lankan government.
Despite saying he does not want to repeat the factoid, the PM even touched upon the release of IAF pilot Kancheepuram-based Abhinandan Varthaman; later he said that the pilot was returned in just two days after being captured in Pakistan.
In yet another display of his affinity to explore Tamil spirituality, he also said that the projects have aimed at reducing the travel time to Thanjavur and Kumbakonam via Vikravandi, that will be useful during the Mahamaham Festival.
It may have been the presence of the AIADMK and the PMK in its ranks, but Wednesday seemed to signal a shift in BJP’s rhetoric in the state. The PM seemed to want to position the BJP as the party that understands Tamil Nadu better than the Congress.
At the same time, he was cautious about attacking the DMK and its brand of Dravidian politics. Post-poll alliance calculations may be a factor, but the BJP could be signalling that it does not want to take the Dravidian ideology head-on, instead presenting its brand of politics as an alternative.