She gets the adulation few leaders can dream of. If anything, sentiments ran even higher than usual when J Jayalalithaa took office for the fifth time as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. With Ms Jayalalithaa back in the saddle, and with her party having swept the Lok Sabha polls last year, she becomes the best bet for any national party looking to extend its footprint in the south.
The BJP, which sent some of its leaders to attend her brief swearing-in ceremony, already has a warm relationship with the volatile leader and an alliance with her would give the party the foothold it needs in the south. At present, it has just 22 seats in the whole of the south, having got just one in Tamil Nadu. The Congress cannot hope for much in the state with either the DMK or the AIADMK, given its dismal situation at present.
But for the BJP, a tie-up with Jayalalithaa will come at a very high price as she is a notoriously difficult ally as was seen in earlier governments. She is likely to make various fiscal demands, which the Centre might not be able to fulfil.
At present, the revenue from liquor excise contributes to the massive welfare schemes that she has instituted, beginning from idli for one rupee to laptops for schoolchildren. In fact, increasingly, there is hardly any area in which the Amma brand has not ventured, from drinking water to cheap meals. All these have paid huge dividends in ensuring that her writ is unchallenged and this is likely to continue as the DMK is today being pulled apart by internal family feuds.
The NDA, which is a strong proponent of the free market, is at the opposite end of Jayalalithaa’s politics of near total welfare. The BJP has had little luck in Kerala, where this time it could not open its innings. It has a foothold in Karnataka but the party is riven by factionalism. In Andhra Pradesh, it has to contend with two leaders who jealously guard their turf and are not likely to give in an inch without taking at least half a mile. The BJP, despite its huge victory, still remains a largely north Indian party. This is likely to make it hope that the warmth that exists between the PM and the Tamil Nadu chief minister will lead to a more productive electoral alliance.