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Now Jaya’s there, now she’s not

Chennai, May 4: Chief minister Jayalalithaa today dashed hopes of her sharing a public platform with Atal Bihari Vajpayee four years after the ADMK and the BJP parted ways as allies.

Sticking to protocol, the ADMK chief drove down to the airport to receive the Prime Minister with an impressive bouquet.

A few minutes later, however, chief guest Jayalalithaa failed to turn up at the inauguration of the airport’s expanded international passenger terminal at a dais less than a kilometre away.

Vajpayee did the honours in the company of his environment and forests minister T.R. Baalu of the DMK and civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain.

Among the other leaders present were MDMK’s Ginjee Ramachandran, S. Thirunavukkarasar, both Union ministers, and Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao.

Jayalalithaa’s absence appeared to stun the gathering into silence as the Airports Authority of India invite clearly mentioned “Selvi J. Jayalalithaa will be the Chief Guest”.

Arriving from Bangalore, Vajpayee reached the inaugural dais at 5.45 pm and was about to light the traditional lamp when state chief secretary Lakshmi Pranesh was seen whispering in his ear. The Prime Minister nodded.

Though the reasons for Jayalalithaa’s absence at the 45-minute inaugural were not known, sources said Baalu’s presence could have put her off. “You ask her about the reasons for her boycott,” the Union minister said.

Baalu had recently led a team of National Democratic Alliance MPs from the state to present a memorandum to Vajpayee, demanding action against the “lawlessness” in Tamil Nadu in the wake of the arrests of DMK youth wing chief M.K. Stalin and others.

Jayalalithaa is also said to have expected an abrasive speech by Baalu — another likely reason why she chose to skip the function, sources said.

Baalu dubbed the chief minister’s absence “unfortunate” and said “it only shows her lethargic attitude”. The presence of Ramachandran, whose leader Vaiko was arrested by the state under the anti-terror law, too, could have prompted the chief minister’s decision.

With Jayalalithaa absent at the inaugural, none of her ministers or MLAs showed up at the venue. “This ego fight between the ADMK and the DMK here is like a family quarrel. What we are concerned about is our Prime Minister’s visit,” said a BJP worker, who along with others like him had turned up in strength.

Though Vajpayee’s prepared speech referred to “Selvi J. Jayalalithaaji”, he chose not to mention it as she was not present on the dais.

Hussain — who spoke of the airports authority’s 10th five-year plans — too, skipped references to reduction of sales tax on aviation turbine fuel, which is as high as 29 per cent in Tamil Nadu. He was supposed to urge Jayalalithaa to cut the tax, which had prevented Air-India from operating more international flights from Chennai.

After the inaugural, Jayalalithaa’s PWD minister O. Panneerselvam saw off the Prime Minister.

Earlier, Vajpayee inaugurated the Rs 80-crore international departure terminal along with a Rs 42-crore integrated cargo terminal and a Rs 67-crore air traffic service complex.

He took the opportunity to play to the DMK gallery by paying tribute to “my friend”, late party leader C.N. Annadurai.

Vajpayee was associated with Annadurai as a member of the Rajya Sabha. He said he continued to cherish their relationship. “Indeed, I dedicated the book containing the Tamil translation of my poems to the memory of my friend Annadurai,” the Prime Minister said.

The Centre, he said, was committed to the rapid modernisation of the country’s aviation infrastructure. So the Cabinet had recently approved a proposal to amend the Airports Authority of India Act to facilitate private participation in the development of airports.

Baalu urged Vajpayee to consider Chennai on a par with Delhi and Mumbai for sanctioning a new international airport.

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