Tamil Nadu’s assembly elections this year seem to have higher stakes for the BJP than it would appear to a casual observer. The party must figure out a way forward in the shifting sands of Dravida politics, which has dominated the state since the 1960s. The recent sealing of an alliance between the DMK and the Congress is a clear gambit against incumbent chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and a reiteration of the pact that helped the UPA-1 rule for five years from 2004, but it must be remembered that it also led to the 2G spectrum scandal, which led to the UPA-2’s defeat. In the new scheme of things, the BJP is ambitious enough to show itself up as a third force of sorts with some grassroots work building up a base that led to its getting 5.5% of votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But that simply will not go far enough in its quest to win back honour after a resounding defeat in Bihar in the backdrop of a need to desperately increase its clout in the Rajya Sabha to pass key legislation. That should give credence to feeble signals that the BJP and AIADMK are heading for a marriage of convenience.
Ms Jayalalithaa’s party won 44.9% of votes to sweep the state in the Lok Sabha elections, and the chief minister put behind her corruption case, which had seen her step aside for a while. But the floods in Chennai dented the image considerably. Though that may not wash across the state, some circumspection may be in order for her — with goodies to be had if she plays ball with the party that rules in New Delhi. Movie-star-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK has shown signals of being less of a joker in the pack and more of a kingmaker (it won 7.2% of votes in the 2011 assembly elections and 5.2% in the Lok Sabha elections).
The BJP now needs to choose between courting him and Vaiko’s MDMK or strike a deal with Ms Jayalalithaa. The latter seems more likely. The DMK and the Congress between them got 30% of votes in 2014. An anti-incumbency surge will clearly aid them.