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Perspective

The political jodi

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POLES ALIKE: Jayalalithaa comes from a privileged background whereas Modi was a rustic Vadnagar boy who grew up in a humble OBC family

The states they govern may be like chalk and cheese but there is an undeniable political and personal chemistry between Jayalalithaa Jayaram and Narendra Modi. What sparks it?


You would have thought that as potential opposition candidates for prime ministership after the 2014 general elections, Jayalalithaa and Narendra Modi would be political enemies. But the fact is that the mutual admiration club they have set up seems beyond the reach of petty power-play.

Over the last few years, the two have been engaging constantly on political platforms with obvious warmth. Soon after the chief minister's meet on internal security last Monday, Jayalalithaa and Modi met up for a tete-a-tete at Tamil Nadu House in the Capital. In January, the Tamil Nadu CM who has never hid her admiration for Modi's leadership qualities sent her representatives to Gandhinagar to participate in his Sadbhavana fast. In February, he sent warm birthday greetings for the Lady of Poes Garden. And if the grapevine is to be believed, Modi was the one who tipped her off about a well-entrenched mafia extorting money from potential investors in Tamil Nadu and the so-called coup plan hatched by the Sasikala clan. The latter was disowned and then re-owned by Jayalalithaa but that is no reflection on how she perceives Modi.

The rare rapport between the two leaders goes back to Modi's days as the BJP general secretary when the party had an alliance with the AIADMK at the national level. It continued to blossom over the years. They share a lot of personal traits - both are single and workaholics. And though Jayalalithaa has never been a proponent of the saffron brand of Hindutva, she has strong views on nationalism, federal issues and security. And of course, both have a marked authoritarian streak - you do not often hear of dissent in their ranks and they are the sole faces of their respective establishments.

Their personal backgrounds could not have been more unlike: she is an Iyengar brahmin from a privileged background;her family had served at the Mysore court. But a huge financial setback forced young Jayalalithaa to give up academics after she finished schooling at the elite Church Park Convent in Chennai. Egged on by an ambitious mother she headed for Kodambakam's studios, became a star, met the charismatic MGR and the rest is history. Modi was a rustic Vadnagar boy from Mehsana district who grew up in a humble OBC family, ran a railway tea stall to serve soldiers in transit during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and struggled to pursue his studies.

But they have supported each other's rise to glory. Jayalalithaa attended the swearing-in of Modi in October 2001 and he reciprocated by his presence when she took oath in May last year.
Both actually had fairly tough rides to their current positions. A couple of years older than Modi, Jayalalithaa was entrusted party work quite early in her career by her mentor. She also cut her teeth in the national political arena faster, being nominated to the Rajya Sabha by MGR in 1984. Modi's progress was slower but less prickly. He rose from the ranks of the BJP student wing to become a pracharak (propagandist ) with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, leading a Navnirman Movement in 1974. Both the leaders have been caught in protracted and highly publicised court cases.

They have a mutual friend - the mercurial Tughlak editor and former film comedian Cho Ramaswamy who was nominated to the Rajya Sabha with BJP support. Cho refuses to be drawn into talk about the bond between the two leaders but Modi is a fixture at his Tughlak anniversary bashes at the landmark Narada Gana Sabha in the heart of Chennai, as is Jayalalithaa.
Says an AIADMK senior, requesting anonymity: "Modi talks of development and so does Nitish Kumar but the latter does not share the same chemistry with Jayalalithaa. " This has translated into Tamil Nadu aspiring to follow the Gujarat model of development.

BJP stalwart L K Advani spoke of the Jayalalithaa-Modi affinity as a tie between two transformational leaders at the last Tughlak event. He also considers AIADMK a "natural ally" of the BJP. But for all that, Jayalalithaa is not likely to be averse to an understanding with the Congress-led UPA should it retain power. Tamil Nadu certainly needs central funds for development. And no political friendship can override that need.

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