When Opposition leader, Vijayakanth, also known as Captain, congratulated Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah on his re-election as party president last month, tongues began wagging furiously in Tamil Nadu. “This means he is going to come with the NDA,” said an elated BJP leader. Captain, who leads the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam or DMDK, though, remains inscrutable.

Earlier, in December 2015, the BJP national general secretary, Muralidhar Rao, told reporters that Vijaykanth was still a part of the NDA alliance formed, in 2014, for the Lok Sabha polls. But Vijayakanth, who has been called Captain ever since his 1991 hit film Captain Prabhakaran, refuted this barely a week later. “Those who want to claim these things may do so,” he said. “I will take a call on an alliance at the right time, after consulting my party workers.”

In demand

As Tamil Nadu inches towards elections (dates have not yet been announced yet), Vijayakanth’s party is much sought after. With a 7.9% voteshare in 2011, the third largest after the two Dravidian majors, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam is expected to be a crucial ally for parties like M Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which on the weekend announced an alliance with the Congress. Captain, a former cine star and a popular political figure, can also give the BJP a much-needed face for its campaigns as it looks to bolster its flagging party in the southern state.

On February 2, the BJP’s Subramanian Swamy tweeted that if Karunanidhi, 91, passed on the mantle to his son MK Stalin, he would personally ensure the formation of a DMK-DMDK-BJP combine in Tamil Nadu. So needy is the BJP that it has announced that if a non-BJP chief ministerial candidate was an option, it would seriously consider it.

Karunanidhi too has publicly invited Vijayakanth to join his alliance and defeat J Jayalalithaa’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

A flimsy Third Front called the People’s Welfare Front – formed by Vaiko, Dalit leader Thirumavalavan and the Left parties – is trying to woo Captain as well. In effect, every party in Tamil Nadu, except the AIADMK, wants the Captain on board. And he is playing hard to get.

Playing hard-to-get

“We have no idea what is going on in his mind,” said a senior DMK leader on condition of anonymity. “At least if he made his decision and announced it, we would know whether to campaign in favour of him or start hitting out at him. We are forced to be silent until he takes a call.”

The wait is filled with tension, but the DMK is putting on a brave face. “We are working through with our plan,” DMK spokesperson TKS Elangovan told Scroll.in. “We are working on our propaganda material, our campaign plans are in place, nothing has stopped because of alliance talks. An alliance will certainly strengthen the Opposition, but our party’s work continues.”

Despite not wanting an alliance with the DMDK, its erstwhile friend, the AIADMK, is also waiting with bated breath to see what Captain will do next. When Vijayakanth allegedly tore a banner bearing Jayalalithaa’s picture in December, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa instructed her party cadre not to protest, or comment, against him.

“It is better for us if Vijayakanth goes with anyone other than the DMK,” said a senior leader of the AIADMK, on the condition of anonymity. “That is the reason we are quiet. We do not wish to push him towards the DMK and strengthen them.”

Dimnishing returns?

Captain followed a similar strategy in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He opened channels with the DMK, the Congress and the BJP and kept all three parties guessing until very late in the day, when he finally decided to ally with the BJP.

Analysts, however, feel that a continuation of this strategy might not be wise. “If he continues to do this, people will tire of him,” said Aazhi Senthilnathan, a political analyst. “In politics, chemistry is as important as arithmetic. He can’t postpone the decision until the last minute either as relations will sour and the party cadre need a lot of time for ground work. This is a big test for Vijayakanth.”

Senthilnathan also warned against reading too much into the situation. “There is an exaggerated view of Vijayakanth’s votebank which is not likely to be more than 4%-5% in reality,” he said. “He needs to look at maximising value for this votebank, which he can get only by aligning with the DMK. Being a part of the NDA is advantageous to him in other ways – he can bargain for an MP seat and other benefits. He might also be looking at a period post Karuna and Jaya. He may also be trying to keep the DMK on its toes by continuing talks with the BJP and thus bargaining for more seats with the DMK,” he said.

The Congress’ state president EVKS Elangovan chuckled in mirth when asked if all parties were waiting for Vijayakanth’s decision with bated breath. “What Vijayakanth does is his decision,” he said. “But my personal view is that all secular forces must come together. He is one of the secular forces in this state, that is for sure.”