That’s because, like so many other states in India, Tamil Nadu is dominated by regional parties. Though the politics of Tamil Nadu are unique to the state, it’s a case study in how regional politics can influence and distort national outcomes.
With over 72.1 million people, Tamil Nadu, which sprawls along India’s southeastern coast, is one of the biggest prizes in India’s nine-phase, five-week marathon election contest, boasting 39 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament.
Tamil Nadu has the second-largest state economy in India, after Maharashtra (home to Mumbai). Chennai, its capital, is a hub for manufacturing, services and finance, and it and other state cities benefit from being part of the great IT sector hinterland that’s drawn so much foreign investment to Bangalore, which lies just to Tamil Nadu’s northwestern corner.
Though Kerala (0.790) and Delhi (0.750) lead India with the highest state/territory-level human development indices, Tamil Nadu’s HDI (0.570) is equivalent to that of Maharashtra, making it higher than the Indian average (0.467) or in Gujarat (0.527). Tamil Nadu’s GSP per-capita is also, slightly, higher than Gujarat’s. That’s significant because Modi is largely campaigning on the economic prowess of the ‘Gujarat model‘ and his economic stewardship of Gujarat since 2001.
Though Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) are expected to win this spring’s election, it’s still an open question if he and the BJP’s allies can amass the 272 seats that they’ll need to form a secure majority government.
That also means that the state’s chief minister and its virtual strongwoman, Jayalalithaa (pictured above), a former Tamil cinema actress, could become one of several outsiders to which Modi turns to form a coalition. If there’s anyone in India who’s perfected the personality cult, it’s Jayalalithaa, whose face greets you throughout the state, from rural towns to urban centers like Chennai (formerly Madras) and Madurai. Known affectionately as ‘Amma’ (‘mother’ in Tamil), her government is responsible for setting up ‘Amma canteens‘ to provide subsidized food to the poor, providing ‘Amma bottled water‘ to deal with chronic shortages and even establishing ‘Amma theaters‘ for entertainment purposes.
For the more prurient of you, here’s an awesome clip of Jayalalithaa pushing the sexual boundaries of Indian cinema (she was the first Tamil actress to appear in a skirt):