Chennai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi handed over the indigenously built Arjun Main Battle Tank Mk-1A to the Indian Army here Sunday and launched a slew of projects and laid the foundation stone for many others. This was a prime ministerial visit on which he made no mention of the Opposition or any other political subjects.
Arriving by helicopter on the Navy helipad near Marina Beach, the PM drove to the Nehru Indoor Stadium where he first took the salute from an “Arjun” tank before proceeding to the meeting venue, where he spoke in English. Describing various projects he was waving the green flag to as symbols of innovation, he quoted freely from great Tamil poets Avvaiyar and Subramania Bharathi to touch a chord in the mostly Tamil audience.
Touching upon an issue sensitive in Tamil Nadu, the PM assured people that not a single fisherman was in Sri Lankan custody at the moment and that while 313 boats seized by the Sri Lankan Navy had been got back, efforts were on to get back several others. He dwelt at length on what India had done for Sri Lankan Tamils in the Jaffna Peninsula, where 15,000 houses had been built for displaced Tamils as well as a hospital and an ambulance service.
Espousing the Tamil Nadu fishermen’s cause further, he said: “Special importance has been given in Budget to develop the coastal area. Extra credit mechanism has been given in the Budget for fishermen, stressing on seaweed farming to improve the conditions of the fishermen’s community,” he said, and announced that a “Seaweed Park” will come up in Chennai soon.
The Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu may be only a couple of months away but Mr Modi refused to be drawn into any election-related issues. Before departing the venue for Kochi in Kerala, Mr Modi linked hands with both chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and deputy CM O. Panneerselvam, and the trio raised their hands in a gesture loaded with a message. Just over a week ago, BJP president J.P. Nadda had cleared the decks for the alliance in Tamil Nadu between the AIADMK and the BJP and other allies.
While Mr Modi kept politics and elections totally out of the event where he flagged off various projects and schemes, he was closeted with Mr Palaniswami for at least five minutes after the function was over. It is believed he got the message from the CM that the AIADMK-BJP front along with other allies was intact, and that the DMDK and PMK were willing partners.
BJP sources say the remainder of the month will be quite busy in Tamil Nadu as the Mr Modi is expected to come to Chennai again to inaugurate more schemes ahead of the summer polls, and Mr Nadda and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman are also expected to be in the state on frequent visits. If the alliance is sewed up by then, seat-sharing talks could figure in the meetings with Mr Nadda.
Both the PMK and DMDK, thought to be parties that are ready with alternatives or even prepared to go it alone in the polls if the AIADMK is not more forthcoming about continuing ties, were well represented in the PM’s function, where Mr Modi was seen waving to them in particular from the dais at the Nehru Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
In view of past troubles with a cold reception for Mr Modi in the city, the police were extra cautious and refused to allow all those wearing black masks entry to the event.
Flagging off the 9.01-km northern stretch of Chennai Metro Rail Phase I to Wimco Nagar costing Rs 3,770 crores, the PM said that the project had been completed on schedule despite the Covid-19 pandemic and by Indian engineers, using only Indian rolling stock. “In this year’s Budget, Rs 63,000 crores has been set aside for Phase II of the project. This is the largest amount earmarked for a project in any city in one go. This will help the people of Chennai,” he added.
Among the other major projects that he flagged off were the Discovery Campus of IIT Madras in Thaiyur at a cost of around Rs 1,000 crores in the first phase, with a built-up area of 200,000 sq. m. and modernisation of the Grand Anicut Canal System that plays a major role in the irrigation of the rice bowl in the Delta districts of Tamil Nadu. Other projects included electrification of the Villupuram-Thanjavur-Thiruvarur railway line and the Chennai Beach-Athipattu fourth line to connect Chennai and Kamaraj ports and facilitate freight movement.
The PM also paid tribute to the martyrs who had laid down their lives on February 14, 2019 when a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into a CPRF convoy moving from Jammu to Srinagar, near Pulwama. “No Indian can forget this day,” Mr Modi said.