The sheer unexpectedness of his hospital visit had caught off-guard security officials, political rivals and his own party leaders.

 Rahul Gandhi visiting Jayalalithaa in hospital More to it than meets the eyePTI
news Politics Saturday, October 08, 2016 - 18:27

Thirty minutes was all it took to set political circles in Tamil Nadu abuzz on Friday. Dressed in his customary white kurta and blue jeans, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi arrived at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, where Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is admitted, minutes before noon on Friday.

Disembarking from a champagne Toyota Innova with the newly appointed TNCC President Thirunavukkarasar metres behind, Rahul Gandhi’s unscheduled trip had thrown police officials into a tizzy just an hour earlier, when “news” of his Apollo Hospital visit was first confirmed.  The sheer unexpectedness of his hospital visit had caught off-guard security officials, political rivals and his own party leaders, suggesting that perhaps it was a little more than just a courtesy call to enquire about Jayalalithaa’s well-being.

More revealing, however, was the fact that Rahul Gandhi’s Chennai trip came less than a day after BJP leader Subramanian Swamy tweeted to say that the Centre should consider imposing President’s rule in Tamil Nadu owing to Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation.  A tweet that was in fact, followed by action, soon after Rahul Gandhi’s visit, as he shot of a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, urging him to impose President’s rule in Tamil Nadu “in view of the administrative disarray”.

Swamy’s social media threat had not gone unnoticed in Tamil Nadu. Sources say that while the Congress VP’s unscheduled trip had caught his own party men unawares, AIADMK leaders at the hospital were in the know of his ‘surprise’ visit. In an interview to News18, Congress leader Sudarsana Nachiappan alleged that the Modi government was trying to disrupt the AIADMK government, exploiting the ruling party’s weakness following Jayalalithaa’s illness. The former MP also claimed that the three AIIMS specialists who flew into Chennai had been sent by the Centre and had not been called in by the Tamil Nadu government.      

Another significant detail in Rahul Gandhi’s visit is the fact that, as a senior Congress leader, he has not once called on his party ally, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi at his residence in Chennai.  More significantly, neither Rahul nor his mother Sonia Gandhi share a political rapport with Jayalalithaa. In fact, there’s no love lost between the Congress President and the AIADMK supremo especially after Jayalalithaa accused Sonia Gandhi of being a “foreign import” in the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

So what are the political calculations behind the Congress VP’s visit?  Rahul Gandhi’s 30-minute hospital visit, which included a meeting with Finance Minister O Panneerselvam and a briefing by Jayalalithaa’s doctors, may have been intended to keep the DMK in check, especially in the wake of the local body elections.  It was no secret that the Congress was unhappy with the way its ally had allocated seats during the Assembly polls and had also been blamed thereafter for costing the DMK the elections.  

But with 50 MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, it could most certainly be the AIADMK’s strength in Parliament that the Congress high command is interested in. After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has frequently counted on his “good friend” Jayalalithaa for support in parliament.  

With Jayalalithaa's health condition still unclear, and political calculations in Tamil Nadu still fluid, it's too early to tell just what Rahul Gandhi's 30-minute visit will do. But is it possible that in one move, the Congress Vice President has shifted the stakes for both the DMK and the BJP?

 

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