Well begun is half done, goes the cliche. But the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would want this to be true, after making a solid start in the alliance bargain in Tamil Nadu.

It now sports a solid look with the AIADMK, PMK, BJP, DMDK (likely) and a couple of outfits like the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Puthiya Tamizhagam coming together to take on the DMK-Congress.

Here are some reasons why:

Early start advantage

Though the elections are still a couple of months away, NDA’s early lead in sewing up a compact deal will put it in a confident frame of mind, especially in contrast to the DMK and the Congress combine which was till the last moment hoping that the PMK would swing towards them.

At the moment of writing, the deal is between the AIADMK and the PMK, and the AIADMK and the BJP. The PMK is getting to contest seven LS seats while the BJP five. The PMK has also been promised an RS ticket. The constituencies to be contested will be identified shortly. The number of seats the DMDK will contest will be revealed later once it formally comes on NDA board.

Bringing PMK around

On a day of hectic political developments which saw nerve-jangling action right through, the NDA’s plans came almost unstuck at the start itself, as the PMK struck a hard bargain and played hard to get. With the PMK looking intransigent, BJP president Amit Shah, who was supposed to fly into the city to be part of the alliance deal function, called it off at the last moment.

As the PMK was also being wooed assiduously by the DMK camp, the Vanniyar outfit upped its demands. From six seats and an RS seat, it became seven seats and an RS ticket. The AIADMK negotiation team (primarily led by Ministers Thangamani and Velumani) was however equal to the task, it played along and understood the importance of a strong alliance partner like the PMK, which brings in its wake a promise of 5 to 6% vote share come what may.

The AIADMK kept the PMK in good humour, and despite some last-minute pangs, the deal was clinched around 10 am, and the two biggies Edappadi Palanisamy and O Panneerselvam and PMK helmsmen Dr Ramadoss and Anbumani Ramadoss presented the deal to the media and spoke optimistically about their chances.

Overcoming negativity

This was a major shot in the arm for the NDA, which needed a morale booster in terms of a party reposing faith in them through a formal alliance in Tamil Nadu, which of late has seen a lot of antagonism towards both the BJP and the AIADMK.

The PMK, on its own, is not much of a force — it lost all the 234 seats it contested all by itself in the 2016 state elections. But in an alliance block, its share of 5-6% votes is crucial, and mostly a clincher. That is why it has been sought by both the DMK and the AIADMK.

Conversely, its solid votebank (Vanniyars who numerically make up the highest caste slice in TN) can mar the chances of its opponents. Vanniyars are known to vote well within their ranks. The alliance block that the PMK has been part of has mostly triumphed in TN.

The PMK was also part of the NDA in 2014 election in the State, won a single seat from Dharmapuri. Anbumani Ramadoss who won that seat was miffed that he was not offered a ministerial berth in the NDA government. He wanted to ally with the DMK-Congress, but it was his dad Dr Ramadoss who swung the deal in favour of NDA today. The RS ticket promise is expected to be encashed by Anbumani’s wife Sowmya Anbumani.

Good optics for BJP

Once the AIADMK signed the pact with the PMK, arrived from Delhi, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who is also BJP’s election in-charge for Tamil Nadu. The BJP and the AIADMK teams did the poll talk over lunch and soon, after the inauspicious time of Rahu Kaalam was over, announced that the BJP has been given 5 seats to contest.

Piyush Goyal sounded confident of NDA’s chances as, he said, all the parties will work together. But the fact that the PMK and the BJP did not show up together will look odd, and is bound to be raked by the rivals.

Piyush Goyal also drove down to DMDK leader Vijayakanth’s residence later, and a news of a deal with that party is also expected soon. The DMDK, as of now, is expected to be given 3 to 4 seats. Puthiya Tamizhagam, a Devendrakula Vellalar party, is likely to get a seat, and GK Moopanar’s son GK Vasan’s TMC is also pencilled to walk away with a seat or a promise of an RS ticket.

All in all, it was a fruitful day for Goyal, who it should be said has put in hard yards to keep the allies in a good mood.

Getting castes riddle right

In terms of caste representation, the NDA seems to have covered all the bases. The boxes of Thevars,  Gounders and Vanniyars look ticked. This is fine for starters. Now the NDA has to come up with a credible campaign. It should also pick candidates who will bring in the X factor to the contest.

Though the battle is tough and the DMK does look formidable, the NDA has got the balance right in its alliance.  It is too early to talk of how many seats it can hope to win.

But the picture certainly looks better for the NDA in TN than it did a few days ago.