January 11, 2014



Courtesy: The Hindu

In the 1980s, actor Vijaykanth was considered amongst the top three superstars of the Tamil film industry along with Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan. Now, three decades down the line, he is probably the most third most popular politician in the southern state, trailing the incumbent CM Jayalalitha and her predecessor Karunanidhi while leaving the likes of MDMK's Vaiko and PMK's Ambu Mani Ramadoss far behind. The journey has been remarkable; after delivering a rather long list of mediocre and below average cinematic performances throughout the early 2000s, 'Captain' as he is fondly called by fans and followers, took the big step into politics by forming the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005. Though he was the only candidate from his party to win the polls, he did make an impact with his party securing about 10 percent of the total votes. With a vow to dislodge the DMK from power, he entered into a pre-poll tie up with the AIADMK for the 2011 elections. Riding on the anti-incumbency wave, the alliance swept the polls with DMDK winning 29 of the 41 seats which it contested. After pushing the DMK to the third position and refusing to join the Jayalalitha cabinet, Vijaykanth became the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly. Never in the history of Tamil Nadu had any party made such an impact in such little time since 1975 when another superstar, MGR romped to power after his public spat with Karunanidhi.

A careful analysis of his actions since 2010 indicates that Vijaykanth is aiming to do what many before him have tried to do but failed - be a third viable political option to the people of Tamil Nadu. In 2011 when there was a wave against the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) regime which was embodied in corruption and nepotism, he allied with the AIADMK. Banking on anti-incumbency, he increased his number from one to a whopping twenty-nine seats in the next polls. Speaking at a press conference following the victory, he took the credit for pushing Karunanidhi out of power, claiming that it would have been impossible for Jaya to win if it was not for him. After this phenomenal performance, he refused to be a part of the government, preferring instead to become the Leader of the Opposition. In a state which is known to vote out its ruling regime each time, Vijay's decision to stay out of the government seemed to be the right one. This position gives him enough media coverage whereas staying away from power negates any effect that anti-incumbency can have in 2016. Now the former actor is training his guns against the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) government to garner public support. In what is seen as a symbolic show of strength, his party even contested the Delhi elections last year where it got 2300 votes. In fact with his popularity at its peak, Vijaykanth has become Tamil country's most wanted. Both the BJP and the DMK are doing their best to forge an alliance with him. However, wooing him will not be so easy; the DMDK supremo has laid down his condition for coalition - that he will himself lead any front that his outfit will be a part of.  

Considering that he had taken a vow to dislodge the DMK from power, it may come as a surprise for many that Karunanidhi is so eager to align with the DMDK. After Alagiri hit out at Vijaykanth in an interview to a TV channel, Karuna made it clear that he would not even hesitate to sack his elder son in case the Madurai strongman does not stop his tirade against his prospective alliance partner. Considering the abysmal situation that the party finds itself in, allying with the DMDK seems to be the only option if it wants to open its account in the General polls. The alleged involvement of leaders like Kanimozhi and former Union Telecom minister A Raja in the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam led to bad press. At the same time, the failure of the UPA government at the Centre to reprimand Sri Lanka for allegedly committing atrocities against Tamils in the Jaffna region during the final days of the civil war added to the already strong anti-incumbency wave. It was under these circumstances that the DMK was relegated to the third position in the 2011 state elections. Trying to pin the blame on the Congress for the disastrous defeat, Karuna walked out off the UPA at the Centre. On the other hand, after coming to power, Amma has not done anything dramatically wrong so as to suggest that she will not do well in 2014. It is expected that under present conditions, the AIADMK is all set to sweep the Lok Sabha. In fact, the party cadre has even projected her as the Prime Ministerial candidate. The DMK supremo has no option with him. With the party health further deteriorating following differences between his sons Alagiri and Stalin, joining hands with Vijaykanth might help the DMK electorally. In a state known for vindictive politics, Karunanidhi seems to be ready to forget all names that Captain had called him in 2011, just for political gains. As they say, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. The problem for the DMK strong man is that some sections within the DMDK are against allying with him. They believe that the partnership will only harm the party's prospects, adversely affecting its performance in 2016.

Apart from the DMK, another party that is trying to be cozy with the DMDK is the BJP. A marginal player in Tamil Nadu for many years, the saffron outfit is hoping that the Modi wave in the Hindi heartland will help it do well even in the southern states where it does not have any significant presence. The massive crowds witnessed at the Gujarat CM's rally in Trichy is an indication that the BJP is all set to see a surge in its support base in this part of the country. Dr Subramanyam Swamy's entry into the party will help it gain Brahmin votes. However, the party is not taking any chances and planning a grand alliance of smaller players including the MDMK, PMK and DMDK to fight the DMK and the AIADMK. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (MDMK) chief Vaiko expressed his desire to side with the saffron party ahead of the 2014 polls. His tough stance on the emotive issue of Lankan Tamils will help garner votes. The Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) which has a strong presence in the northern parts of the state, especially amongst the Vaniyar community, may play a spoil sport here. Though party leader Ramadoss is keen on a tie up with the BJP, he has opposed the inclusion of the DMDK in the front since both have similar political interests in northern Tamil Nadu. While the national party is hopeful that both the Dravidian parties will join hands with it, differences over seat sharing could jeopardize campaigning. It was earlier reported that even the Congress was keen on a tie-up with Captain with Rahul even wishing Captain on his 61st birthday. Considering the anti-UPA wave in the nation and its indecisiveness over the Lankan issue, it seems that the veteran actor has ruled out this possibility for the time being.

The 2014 General polls will turn out to be extremely crucial for Vijaykanth. After its superb performance in 2011, it will be interesting to see if the DMDK can sustain the momentum which was punctured to some extent after several of its MLAs voted for AIADMK candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections, defying the party whip. A good show in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 and a cabinet berth for some of his MPs at the Centre will help him increase his influence across the state. In case the manages to even touch a figure of 5 seats, he will move closer to his dream of being the third alternative in Tamil politics. On the other hand, you can expect few more of its MLAs to switch loyalties in case he draws a blank - a scenario where he will be back to square one. There is a feeling amongst many that it will be hard for the party to emulate its performance in 2011. They say that his alliance with AIADMK and the anti-DMK vote helped him win 20 odd seats. His inability to keep his flock together and his 'haughty' personality may further damage his credentials. Against this backdrop, the decision of allying either with the DMK or the BJP will not be an easy and will have a tremendous bearing on the future of the DMDK. Vijaykanth has made it clear that a decision in this regards will be made on February 2 at the party's state meet in Ulundurpet. Till then, all those wooing him have to wait and watch.


(1) Courtesy: The Hindu
Original: DMDK alliance decision on February 2 (Link)

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