Modi’s lunch meeting with Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence grabbed more attention than the National Handloom Day function at the centenary hall of the University of Madras which the Prime Minister had come to address
CHENNAI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa over lunch at her residence here on Friday, in a significant amid his government’s big push to get key bills passed in Parliament. Sources said during the 30-minute lunch meeting, when only two of them were present, the Prime Minister asked AIADMK chief for her party’s support to the GST Bill, though a memorandum presented by her later expressed her opposition to the legislation that is part of the Modi government’s proposed financial reforms.
Predictably, Modi’s lunch meeting with Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence grabbed more attention than the National Handloom Day function at the centenary hall of the University of Madras which the Prime Minister had come to address. In another gesture underlining the cordial relations between the two leaders, Jayalalithaa, who has been keeping off public functions citing ill health after her return as chief minister, received the Prime Minister at the airport.
The Modi-Jayalalithaa meeting after a long gap of over one year comes in the backdrop of the NDA government’s virtual isolation in Parliament following the suspension of 25 Congress MPs. The tete-a-tete also set off speculation about a possible tie-up between BJP and AIADMK in the coming assembly polls in Tamil Nadu.
A statement from the Tamil Nadu government later in the evening said the two leaders discussed several issues of national concern. “The chief minister presented a memorandum containing issues relating to Tamil Nadu that are pending with the Government of India,” it said.
The first move to seek AIADMK’s support for the GST Bill was made by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley when he called on Jayalalithaa at her residence on January 18 this year, about one month after he had introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha. Jayalalithaa then was not the CM due to her conviction in the assets case against her. While the bill was later passed in the lower house, it still awaits the nod in the upper house.
Among other things, GST would subsume various value added taxes (VAT), octroi and entry tax. But it excludes liquor meant for human consumption, which is music to the ears of the ruling AIADMK as it is heavily dependent on sales at its Tasmac liquor shops across the state. AIADMK had submitted a dissent note to the parliamentary panel studying the GST Bill and the Modi government had reportedly assured Jayalalithaa that her party’s concerns on loss of revenue and financial autonomy will be addressed.
Asked if the PM had sought Jayalalithaa’s support for the GST Bill, Union minister of state for ports and highways Pon Radhakrishnan said, “AIADMK is already cooperating with us in Parliament on several issues and GST is not the only issue that was discussed.”
Sources said the two leaders discussed enhanced Centre-state cooperation and the PM gave an assurance on the financial assistance package she has sought. They also reviewed the national political situation and the contours of a broad alliance in the context of the state assembly polls scheduled in nine months, they said.
The meeting also came as a boost for AIADMK cadres against the backdrop of a stepped up campaign by the opposition parties for total prohibition in the state and widespread speculation over Jayalalithaa’s health. Modi’s visit also came as a shot in the arm for BJP cadres who have been feeling disillusioned over the strains within the NDA in the state with key allies like DMDK and PMK projecting their own CM candidates. They reckon that a broad alliance with AIADMK, even if it is not spelt out, would put BJP in a stronger position.