Since the assassination of Indira Gandhi on Oct 31, 1984, women politicians have steered clear of having a go at the high office of prime minister.
For one, they are mostly regional satraps and not strictly in the national arena. Importantly, garnering 272 plus on their own out of the 543 elected seats in the Lok Sabha to stake claim in forming the government, even in good times, is a difficult ask.
Despite the inherent handicap, it is after three decades that two battle-scarred women have joined hands to try and block the over-ambitious Gujarat chief minister and BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi from becoming the country's head of government.
Jayalalithaa and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee believe that regional parties with similar ideologies and wedded to secularism can rustle up a Third or a Federal Front to provide an alternative to a non-Congress and non-BJP combination which has held sway for the last 15 years.
If the recent opinion polls are to be believed, then the BJP-led NDA appears set to form the government at the centre with the Congress set to make an ignominious exit after two consecutive terms. Over the last two weeks, Jayalalithaa has sharpened her attack against Modi, emphasising that the development parameters of Tamil Nadu are far better than those of Gujarat. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi immediately endorsed Jayalalithaa and suggested it might do Modi a world of good by adopting the "Tamil Nadu model".
Her agenda seems to be to try and head a government at the centre, even if it is a minority one, with the backing of a Third Front - which has remained a mirage all along. In her ambitions, she has found a supporting partner in Mamata Banerjee. Jayalalithaa and Banerjee are plotting what is being called a Federal Front government at the centre in case, as they believe, the BJP-headed NDA fails to get a majority on May 16.
Jayalalithaa has taken strong exception to the promise in the BJP's election manifesto to provide refuge to persecuted Hindus from other countries as being "anti secular." She pointed out that besides Hindus, there are Indians abroad of other religions as well. Banerjee has also not spared Modi, emphasising that his becoming prime minister "is a fantasy."
Depending on the results that will be announced on May 16, the Congress could back a Third Front or Federal Front government, as it has done in the late eighties and nineties. A lot will also depend on how many seats the Congress itself wins in the elections. The most important factor is whether a Third or a Federal Front is in a position to provide a stable government at the centre, Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken observed. It is apparent the Congress is not averse to backing such a front to keep the BJP out of contention.
Nonetheless, there will be a big question mark about its stability.
(TR Ramachandran is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)