A charisma that often goes with a phoenix-like will. This description sums up how Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has, over three decades, defined her assertiveness in politics.

Again in a display of this assertiveness, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader made a dramatic turnaround in her alliance plans in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election, “unilaterally” breaking her party’s ties with the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI(Marxist).

Starting in the 1970s, the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu had been striking alliances with the Congress, giving the national-level party a greater share of Lok Sabha seats in return for a reciprocal arrangement in the Assembly election.

But after coalition politics has come to stay at the Centre since 1996, catapulting regional parties to a new high, Ms. Jayalalithaa, after losing the Assembly election that year, decisively changed the equations of alliance politics in Tamil Nadu.

Earlier alliance with BJP

In the Dravidian political milieu of Tamil Nadu, where the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not to be befriended, more for its “Brahminical” outlook than its economic or other ideological issues, Ms. Jayalalithaa had, for the first time, in the 1998 Lok Sabha election struck an alliance with the BJP and some smaller regional parties such as the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), giving them a fresh lease of life.

“It was I who popularised [former Prime Minister and BJP leader] A.B. Vajpayee’s name in every nook and corner of Tamil Nadu,” she once declared responding to criticism of her new-found belligerence.

Later, in the 2006 Assembly election, she enlarged that strategy’s scope to rope in even the Vaiko-led Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and renewed the AIADMK’s ties with the Left parties, notwithstanding the fact that the smaller parties walked in and out of the AIADMK-led front for different reasons.

Even in the run-up to the 2011 Assembly election, it was with “great reluctance” that Ms. Jayalalithaa agreed to ally with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) of actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth, an alliance that barely lasted a year after people gave her a decisive mandate again.

But the kernel of all these goes back to the washout of the AIADMK in the 2004 Lok Sabha election, when it went with an L.K.Advani-led BJP. It forced a hard rethink on Ms. Jayalalithaa on the need to be more inclusive, though by then her aversion to the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress had reached a zenith.

A “third alternative” at the Centre in which the AIADMK will play a crucial role as part of a “non-BJP, non-Congress combine” had thus become a “mantra” even during the 2009 Lok Sabha election, albeit less emphatically. That trend was accentuated with one scam after another bolting out of the UPA’s stables. Ms. Jayalalithaa quickly took more strident stands, whether in slamming UPA’s economic policies, governance or stand on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue. This strong sentiment has gradually transformed in 2014, with Ms. Jayalalithaa becoming a prime ministerial prospect, if only the AIADMK could win at least 30 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Its logical fallout has been her “go-alone” strategy in this election, in a bold gambit as it were. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, may be her “friend,” but Ms. Jayalalithaa has a mind of her own, whatever other people’s expectations of post-poll realignments are.

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