Tamil Nadu is in the headlines again. With talks of the two factions of the ruling AIADMK merging taking a shape, one will be keen to observe how things get played out in the state's political theatre. Will the merger make the party of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa strong enough or will it ultimately surrender to the BJP, paving way for PM Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo to make inroads in the South?
The answers are not yet clear but one is assured of the fact that despite the merger, the current leadership of the AIADMK will never match the heights of a MGR or Jayalalithaa and there will be also be little assurance that the camps will grow overnight respect for each other and allow stability to prevail.
BJP eager to make things move in TN
The tragedy for the BJP is that it is raring to go to pocket yet another state by allying with the ruling party, just as it did in Bihar recently, but the holes in the rank and file of the AIADMK has kept it apprehensive. The exit of two giants – Jayalalithaa and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi – from the state's political scene has created a lifetime opportunity for the saffron party to make gains in the state but the chaos in the ruling party and the lack of a face of its own in the state have delayed its plans.
That the BJP is aware of its limitations in Tamil Nadu becomes evident from the fact that it did not seek a fall of the faction-ridden government and a mid-term election. The saffron party's best bet in the state is to find a strong ally (which only AIADMK can be, despite its internal trouble) before the next big electoral tests in 2019 and 2021. It is fortunate that the AIADMK has come to power just last year and there is ample time for its two camps to iron out their differences and come together even while enjoying power.
The Rajanikanth factor
The other significant angle the story has is the presence of Rajinikanth. The veteran cine star has still not given a clear message about his political plans although talks are that he will soon step into politics and give the Tamil people a leadership of hope.
The 67-year-old superstar has been buying time, only to fathom the water. He has said that he would take the step only after completing the schedule of his two under-production films and that is another indication that the man is waiting and watching how the political class plays it out in Tamil Nadu.
Both Rajinikanth and PM Modi will be eager to exploit each other's popularity to make their respective claims in the state strong. While the BJP will throw its weight behind Rajinikanth (and his new party in case he floats one instead of joining the BJP) to help its own clout grow in the state, the actor will back Modi on the national stage (as he has done in the past) as reciprocation.
In case Rajinikanth and Modi turn out to be the personalities that matter in Tamil Nadu in the future, it will be interesting to see how the lesser politicians of the AIADMK conduct themselves. Rajinikanth never had a rosy relation with Jayalalithaa while Modi could never really challenge Amma's authority in the state even if he was close to her.
Will Amma's own followers in the party silently allow the two men to fill up the vacuum which has been created in state since Jayalalithaa's demise? And of course there is the DMK, which though is not so much in the picture now, but can't be written off either besides the other actor whose name is also making a lot of rounds in the state's political circles nowadays – Kamal Haasan.