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Jaya hugs Atal, keeps NDA waiting

Chennai, Jan. 28: Jayalalithaa today bridged a five-year political gulf in a single tête-à-tête with BJP boss Venkaiah Naidu, agreeing to fight the general elections as friends but keeping her options open on joining the NDA.

By way of bonus, the ADMK chief also declared her support for A.B. Vajpayee as the next Prime Minister candidate. Taking a whack at Sonia Gandhi, she told a private TV channel her party was committed to having an Indian as head of government.

The deal, struck this morning at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden home, comes days after L.K. Advani looked her up in Chennai and promised funds to tackle the city’s water crisis. The deputy Prime Minister had also given her a tinkle on New Year’s day.

“The AIADMK and the BJP have decided to fight the elections together and the respective committees of both the parties will sit together and work out the details of the seat sharing,” Jayalalithaa told reporters, looking cheerful after her hour-long meeting with Naidu.

Although she dodged queries on whether her party would join the NDA, saying “whatever I have to tell you, I have said”, her swipe at Sonia came all too soon. Only in 1999, she had joined hands with the Congress chief after Subramanian Swamy’s famous tea party to pull down Vajpayee’s government.

“It is a question of whether an Indian is going to be the Prime Minister or whether a foreigner is going to be the PM. So, you know very well that AIADMK is committed to having an Indian as PM,” Jayalalithaa said.

Buoyed by the tie-up, Naidu later termed his talks with Jayalalithaa “friendly and meaningful”. He said the parties had decided to “work together”, adding that “other such issues, which needed more clarity”, would be worked out later.

Political experts see today’s tie-up as the “logical culmination” of the DMK quitting the BJP coalition in December, followed by smaller allies MDMK and PMK. Even as the walkouts were taking place, Naidu had hinted at reviving ties with Jayalalithaa. “If one party goes out (of the NDA), another would come in.”

Ideologically, the ADMK is closer to the BJP and its Hindutva than the DMK. Over the past two years, Jayalalithaa has been massaging Hindu sentiment — through the temple anna dhana scheme, by banning forcible conversions and even attending a yagna performed by the Kanchi Sankaracharya. So much so, that the BJP has been jittery that she would hijack its support base.

The ADMK has also been pursuing policies that are up the BJP’s street, including backing the anti-terror law.

Experts say it was only a matter of time before a formal alliance between the two parties was sealed, though there was some suspense in December when Jayalalithaa declared she would try to forge a “non-BJP/non-Congress” alternative at the Centre.

After the DMK stitched up an “arithmetically formidable alliance” that included the Congress, Jayalalithaa revised her stand. On her mentor M.G. Ramachandran’s birthday a few days ago, she declared “politics itself means change and flexibility”.

Jayalalithaa has already hinted that her party intends contesting most of the 40 Lok Sabha seats — 39 in Tamil Nadu and one in Pondicherry. Initial indications are the BJP might be given six but the state unit is jockeying for 10.

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