In Tamil Nadu, it's personalities over parties
As political parties turn their attention to the final leg of the elections, in Tamil Nadu the non-playing captains, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, are hogging the show.
As political parties turn their attention to the final leg of the national election widely predicted to produce a hung verdict, Tamil Nadu is one state where the non-playing captains are hogging the show.
Not one of the so-called kingmakers active in this southern state with 39 crucial parliamentary seats is in the fray for the May 10 ballot here. Yet, all these persons are already sensing power.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK chief Jayaram Jayalalitha heads the list, followed by her main foe, DMK's Muthuvel Karunanidhi.
Jayalalitha has fielded as many as 33 AIADMK candidates (the party currently has 10 seats), but few of these candidates have been heard as much as their supremo has been in their constituencies.
Barring two, all candidates are new faces, but Jayalalitha is undeterred by gloomy forecasts about her party's prospects in exit polls.
"The predictions for Tamil Nadu are as reliable as predicting the results of one-day cricket matches," she scoffed. "Maybe they (pollsters) should rely on the toss of a coin."
Some polls have rated Jayalalitha as the "least popular chief minister" and warn of rising anti-incumbency sentiments against her.
But the redoubtable chief minister has her own logic, drawn from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, to demonstrate that numbers don't make for power.
"Five Pandava princes proved to be mightier than 100 Kaurava princes," she never tires of repeating.
A gifted polyglot, Jayalalitha easily switches to the local language as and when required in various parts of the state.
So in the Krishnagiri district in northwest Tamil Nadu bordering Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, she spoke in the Kannada language. In Madagundu Halli and Thali she spoke Tamil and Telugu respectively.
Another kingmaker is DMK president Karunanidhi, whose coalition with Congress, the leftists and other parties is predicted to win at least 20 seats.
Karunanidhi has been fending off criticism about forging an "opportunistic alliance" with the Congress, its one-time foe.
"If ours is an opportunistic alliance, then what about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and AIADMK? Jayalalitha had once accused Vajpayee and other BJP leaders of being in league with international arms dealers," pointed out the former Tamil Nadu chief minister.
A third person said to enjoy tremendous power and support despite a relatively tiny share of seats, is MDMK leader V Gopalaswamy "Vaiko".
A parliamentarian since 1978, Vaiko is not contesting this time. He was released in February from the prison, where he had been jailed under the provisions of the anti-terror legislation.
Yet another kingmaker is superstar Rajnikanth whose fans have declared war on the Congress-DMK partner PMK and its five candidates for the Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu and one in Pondicherry.
Though Rajnikanth has not campaigned for any candidate here, he has announced he would vote for the BJP, which is happy because the veteran star has a considerable following here.
His supporters have distributed 200,000 cassettes of Rajnikanth's speeches to constituencies where PMK is battling it out with either the BJP or AIADMK.
PMK leader S Ramadoss is another player adept at switching sides and eagerly playing the numbers game.