The DMK has long reconciled to the reality that they will never reach the magic 117 number on their own. They contested 132 seats in 2006 and needed to win 88% of their seats to get to simple majority on their own. The congress, PMK and everybody else knew DMK couldn't pull that kind of odds. DMK knew it as well. So its been 5 years since they gave up their ambition of ruling TN without coalition. However, it was an easy change for DMK. DMK cannot be regarded as the single largest vote puller in Tamil Nadu. They've averaged only 60 - 75 lac votes in all elections since 1991. Recently these votes seem only good enough to translate to about 70 - 100 seats out of 234. But to reach 117 seats they've more often than not needed 'help'.
Today they have been pushed down to 119 seats in 2011 elections - which means they need to win all their seats to get simple majority on their own. Its not even a option anymore. DMK have surrendered to the reality that they will never rule the fort on their own.
AIADMK on the other hand - the most popular party in TN in terms of # of individual votes they can poll in their favor - seems to be this old dog who is unwilling to accept the reality that simple majority victories by any party in TN isn't as simple as it used to be. Jayalalitha has consistently 'kazhatti uttufied' her allies post elections. She has contested in 180+ seats giving a comfortable buffer for her to get to 117 on her own. Thats because she can average 80 lac votes in TN. Barring 1996 where she hit a low of 55 lac votes - she has gotten 1.09 crore votes in 1991, 88 lacs in 2001 and 1.07 crores in 2006. Imagine this - She had got 1.09 crores in an election she won with 164 seats. In 2006 she got 1.07 crores in an election and she lost! She won only 57 seats. This is where Gabtun becomes the most important person in her life.
So if you were her - it is reasonable to assume you that you can get simple majority on your own because 45% of the voting population seems to favor you. All you need to do is get the voter mood swing in your direction 3 months before the election and hedge with a few key allies (PMK, CPI and CPM will win in areas that Jaya can never hope to win). But if its head on collision with DMK in 180 seats - her odds are favorable. So even if she got in bed with Gabtun - she needed to make sure her odds of getting to 117 were great. But it was only a matter of time before her allies wised up to this and preempted her before the elections. Vijaykanth pulls in close to 30 lac votes in TN. He may inch up to 40 lacs in 2011. This is 2X more than PMK. And he is pulling the gap further ahead while PMK has never grown in a long time. What makes this whole thing interesting is he doesn't complement Jaya the way the communist parties and PMK (in instances where they allied with Jaya) does. His strength/problem is the spread of his votes is wider and so his vote density is thinner. And he intersects with Jaya's stronghold in a huge way. His strongest 30 seats are probably ranked very high among Jaya's strongest 150 seats. Everytime she gives a seat to Gabtun (or Vaiko) she is giving from her core base of seats.
Vaiko and PMK seem to get between 16 - 20 lac votes. Both seems have peaked and show negigible growth. PMK is in a position to have more clout inspite of getting half the votes of gaptun because its a caste/geography density based party. So its focus allows it to translate votes to seats in a much better way. They have a good chance of contesting in 34 seats and winning 20-25 of it. Vaiko is just another Vijayakanth in terms of spread but with lesser votes. And so gets lesser importance (I like him a lot btw)
In 2011 jaya is probably set to rake in over 1 crore votes again. It is the translation of votes into seats that is being made difficult because of the growth of Gaptun is eating into her victory margins. And unlike her previous allies - gaptun is in a position to prempt her from going for a clean 117. And this is what I think this war is all about. Something that is not being discussed as much as I like it to be (but I must confess to not having read most of the thamizh media's analysis). It is about getting to 117 for Jaya. It is about not letting her get to it for Vaiko, Left parties and Gaptun. But its coming out in the press in a different way. It is not about constituency mix (which is important but not the tilter) or slighting MDMK or their relevance. And it is certainly not about Jaya's arrogance. Jayalalitha needs DMDK to convert her votes to 117 seats. Once DMDK is in the bag - MDMK is superflous. Gaptun doesn't (or shouldn't) care about well being of MDMK. To him the inclusion of MDMK means Jaya will contest less than 160 seats. Will give more of her 'strong constituencies' to Vaiko. Gaptun is making Jaya's odds of getting to 117 difficult. In this context Gaptun is using constituency mix to prevent Jaya from contesting in 150 of their strongest constituencies.
So DMK seems like a party that is already very very screwed. Now they are having their puff of smoke and are watching to see if Jaya will get screwed over.
As an aside - it is fascinating to see Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha go back to contesting in a constituency that is like a real 'home' to them. They've both met similar fates to their political careers and are going back to their roots.