MK Alagiri, the estranged elder son of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, may not be the force he was till recently in his fiefdom of southern Tamil Nadu.
But he has emerged as an alternative power-broker in a hazy poll scenario and leaders of different political parties are flocking to him.
Elections to the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu are slated for April 24.
Alagiri was recently expelled from the DMK and several of his followers weaned away by his younger brother MK Stalin. There is no formal party organisation at Alagiri's command, save for few followers.
But even his rivals know that they can ignore him only at their own peril.
Those who met Alagiri at his residence in Madurai included MDMK chief Vaiko, BJP's Sivaganga candidate H Raja and a Congress candidate from Madurai – all described as courtesy calls.
Raja told Hindustan Times that he had gone to thank Alagiri for his support for Modi and Vaiko said that Alagiri was an old friend and hence he called on him when visiting Madurai. TNCC chief BS Gnanadesikan too expressed his desire to meet Alagiri if and when he visited the temple town.
On Friday, it was, however, the other way around.
Alagiri met union finance minister P Chidambaram at the Madurai airport. Alagiri was returning home from Chennai and the union minister proceeding to Sivaganga to campaign for his son Karti Chidambaram, the Congress candidate in the family turf.
Alagiri refused to divulge what transpired during the meeting. Ever since his expulsion from the DMK, Alagiri has remained in the news by receiving political leaders fighting against the DMK in the general elections.
Alagiri had also called on superstar Rajinikanth, if only to request him to do a film with his son. Before his expulsion, Alagiri had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP president Rajnath Singh in New Delhi.
But why are political parties vying with one another to be seen with Alagiri? The answer is simple.
In multi-cornered contests, in some constituencies as many as six parties are in fray -- the AIADMK, the DMK, the NDA front, the Congress, the Left (CPM, CPI) and the AAP -- the political parties expect the victory margins to be thin or very thin. How close is too close to call at this stage.
Which is why every vote counts and this is where the Alagiri factor in at least 10 Lok Sabha seats in southern Tamil Nadu comes into play. He may be depleted in strength but still he has some 500 to 1,000 supporters in every constituency, reasoned political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University.
These votes may well be decisive, not unlike each run in a T20 cricket match, he said.
The importance of each vote is clear to H Raja who is taking on Karti Chidambaram and four others in a multi-cornered contest.
In the last general elections, in a straight contest (Congress-DMK versus AIADMK front) Chidambaram barely managed to win the seat with a slender margin of just 3,354 votes.
Similarly, in Vilupuram the AIADMK candidate M Anandan scraped through with a lesser margin of 2,797 votes. There were five seats in TN where the victory margin was less than 10,000 votes in the last general elections.
This time around these margins will be much narrower, Prof Manivannan said as some constituencies are expected to see six-cornered contests.
New elements like the presence of AAP and BJP-led coalition will add the suspense element in what promises to be, on paper, a direct contest between the DMK and the AIADMK in all the Lok Sabha constituencies. The Congress and the Left are going it alone.
The leaders of other political parties know that in the past a miffed Alagiri, when suspended from party in 2001, fielded rebel candidates and sabotaged the chances of DMK in several constituencies helping the AIADMK's victory in the assembly elections.
According to Prof Manivannan, AIADMK, the strongest in terms of vote share in the 2014 assembly elections, could be the biggest gainer in the multi-way split of votes of its opponents in the general elections.
Political analyst Cho Ramaswamy is convinced that the two brothers will be trying to finish off the other in the elections. "This family feud will cost the DMK dear," he told Hindustan Times.
Pre-election surveys have given AIADMK and Jayalalithaa the edge, some predicting as high as number as 27. But these surveys were conducted before the BJP formed its 6-party rainbow coalition.
The BJP front in Tamil Nadu is hoping to translate the Modi buzz into few seats that will come in very handy for the party's national Mission 272.