New Delhi: The jailing of the charismatic J Jayalalithaa will help the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) to grow in Tamil Nadu, a state where it has always been a bit player, party leaders say.
BJP leaders feel their party is bound to get more support now that the ruling AIADMK is rudderless minus Jayalalithaa and the DMK - the main opposition - is in disarray.
As for the Congress, it appears to be on the retreat in Tamil Nadu, where it was wiped out in the May Lok Sabha election.
"Jayalalithaa's absence from Tamil Nadu may favour the BJP as we can expand our base in the state," a BJP leader in Chennai said.
"We are looking to forge an alliance with smaller parties," he added.
Tamil Nadu's BJP general secretary H Raja was more forthright: "The next election in the state will be between the AIADMK and the BJP.”
"Our party has a bright future in Tamil Nadu," he said.
"In the absence of Jayalalithaa, governance will not be that good, and any anti-incumbency will favour the BJP. Modi's popularity among youth is very high... We are going to expand in the state,” he added.
Fighting in alliance with smaller Tamil parties and ranged against both the AIADMK and the DMK, the BJP surprised everyone in the Lok Sabha polls by winning one of the state's 39 seats.
Another seat went to the PMK, a BJP ally. The remaining 37 were bagged by the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK.
The BJP-led alliance secured 18.5 per cent of all votes in Tamil Nadu, and the BJP itself cornered 5.5 per cent.
While the AIADMK vote percentage was 44.3 per cent, the DMK-led alliance got only eight percent votes more than the BJP grouping in the state, a factor which stunned political pundits.
The 2014 showing for the BJP was the best in Tamil Nadu since 1998 when it won three Lok Sabha seats and in 1999 when it took four seats. On both occasions, the popularity of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani tilted the scales -- just as Modi's appeal did this time.
Just when everyone was predicting another AIADMK landslide in the 2016 assembly elections, a court in Bangalore Saturday jailed Jayalalithaa for four years and fined her Rs 100 crore for corruption.
She was stripped of her membership of the Tamil Nadu assembly. A loyalist, O Panneerselvam, took oath as chief minister Monday, in a near replay of what happened 13 years ago.
It is Jayalalithaa's physical absence from a state where she commands a big popularity that makes the BJP feel the party will be able to do better vis-a-vis voters.
But pundits admit that while middle class sensibilities on corruption might push them towards the BJP, the mass of rural and urban poor may not be ready to dump Jayalalithaa -- even if she remains in jail.
In any case, the BJP has never been in the race for power in Tamil Nadu, where it relies on smaller or bigger Tamil parties while seeking votes.
The BJP's predecessor Jana Sangh had no presence in Tamil Nadu as it was viewed as a "north Indian" and 'Hindi' party.
It was only the Ayodhya campaign that helped the BJP to grow in the 1990s. Even then, most people in Tamil Nadu called the BJP not by its name but as 'Advani party'.
Those lonely days, BJP leaders assert, are long gone.
In New Delhi, a BJP leader said: "The AIADMK is a natural ally for us. But we are not thinking about it at present."