The BJP's tie-up with the AIADMK is "nearly done", say sources, signaling a big about-turn by Tamil Nadu's ruling party, which had just weeks ago talked about its cadre being strongly against such an alliance. BJP president Amit Shah will seal the alliance soon, say sources, adding that the deal may be done by the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Kanyakumari to address a rally on February 19.
Last month, AIADMK spokesperson C Ponnaiyan had told NDTV that the cadre "does not want any alliance with the BJP" because they felt PM Modi's party didn't do much for the state, especially on the Cauvery dispute with Karnataka.
To explain its change of heart, the southern party refers to the "pro-poor" announcements in the centre's interim budget that it had first criticised. "If they had been so serious, they could have announced them in the last Budget itself. Now, announcement of these programmes is only meant for elections. It shows it is their election manifesto and not the Budget," the party's M Thambidurai had said.
The BJP, looking to gain ground in the 39-seat state, has for over a year been pursuing the AIADMK, which is seen to be greatly weakened and riven by feuding after the death of its charismatic chief J Jayalalithaa in 2016. Its rival DMK has already announced that it will partner with the Congress.
A series of income tax and CBI raids on the state Health Minister, Chief Secretary and the police chief meant that the AIADMK virtually surrendered itself to the BJP.
In the past few months, the AIADMK was seen to be changing its stand on any alliance with the BJP, with Mr Thambidurai saying, "The BJP had not done anything for Tamil Nadu. We will align only with a party that is good for the state".
In the 2014 national election, the AIADMK won 37 seats in the state. The BJP, snubbed by Jayalalithaa, formed an alliance with parties like MDMK, PMK and DMDK but ended up with just two seats.
This time, the AIADMK is split in two, with a rebel faction supporting Jayalalithaa's long-time aide VK Sasikala, who made a failed bid to take over the party and chief ministership after her death, before being jailed for corruption. Sasikala's nephew TTV Dhinakaran has launched AMMK and even won Jayalalithaa's RK Nagar constituency in a by-election.
But then again, last week, the AIADMK hinted that a tie-up with the BJP was definitely brewing. As Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam spoke about talks with regional, national and friendly parties, another AIADMK leader, D Jayakumar, said: "Anything can happen in politics... he (Panneerselvam) gave a veiled indication... only you have to understand."
The AIADMK has reportedly deputed its ministers to hold talks with BJP leaders including Amit Shah and union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Ravi Shankar Prasad. All three are expected to visit Tamil Nadu this week.