Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam(DMDK) chief Vijayakanth’s political journey has been nothing short of a potboiler: From a successful actor to forming his own party to becoming the Leader of Opposition. The leader now faces a rebellion within the party ranks.
Recently, the DMDK hit the headlines when it joined the People’s Welfare Front (PWF). The PWF, consisting of the Left parties, DMDK, Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), projects itself as the third front to J Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and M Karunanidhi’s DMK. While many see Captain (as Vijayakanth is referred to by his cadre, based on the title of one of his films) as the kingmaker, he prefers the title ‘king’ — Vijayakanth is the PWF’s chief ministerial candidate.
But does Vijayakanth have the political bandwidth to become a deciding factor this election? Observers are divided over this.
Political commentator and social activist A Marx feels that Vijayakanth could make a difference. “If the DMDK manages to hold on to the 9% votes it has commanded in the previous elections Vijayakanth will be a deciding factor. He is definitely an advantage to the PWF,” says Marx.
However, the DMDK is losing its appeal among the actor’s fans. “The lack of a dedicated cadre base, other than amorphous fan associations, is reflected in the previous elections and it often does not translate into votes,” says R Azhagarasan, a professor at the University of Madras, Chennai.
This was seen in 2005 when he launched the DMDK. The launch was widely celebrated and during the 2006 state elections the party fielded candidates in all the 234 constituencies. But except for Vijayakanth no other DMDK candidate won.
His political highpoint was in 2011, when in alliance with the AIADMK, the DMDK won 29 of the 41 seats it contested. In the 2014 general elections, by which time ties with Jayalalithaa went sour, the DMDK won none of the 14 seats it contested from.
“Today the people are disappointed because as a Leader of Opposition Vijayakanth was a let-down. He missed a golden opportunity the people of Tamil Nadu gave him to make a difference,” a senior Tamil journalist who chose not to be named said.
Also, in a state where caste equations are still relevant, he is at a disadvantage. “Vijayakanth’s biggest advantage is also his disadvantage. His party is not based on a religious or caste equation — this shows him to be progressive but it can also work against him,” says Marx.
The DMDK has a following among the Vanniyars but will be facing tough completion in the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and even the AIADMK, which is fielding more than 40 Vanniyar candidates this time.
Another problem Vijayakanth faces is that his party lacks a well-defined ideology. As the name suggests the DMDK wants to be national (Desiya) and local (Dravida) at the same time. He is yet to spell out how nationalism and the Dravidian identity can be brought on the same platform. The two main Dravidian parties, the AIADMK and DMK, have focused on Tamil Nadu and limited their New Delhi ambitions to the arithmetic of coalition politics. The actor-turned-politician should know that hitting two targets with one bullet happens only in movies.
Currently the DMDK is facing a rebellion with at least 10 MLAs protesting against Vijayakanth’s decision to join the PWF. The rebels, led by MLA VC Chandhirakumar feel that the party’s poll prospects are brighter if it joins the DMK alliance. Since its inception the DMDK has been more like a ship sailing to the four winds — first it went alone, then joined alliance with AIADMK, and now with the PWF. The party’s dilemma can be attributed to its lack of ideology.
That said some observers are a bit more cautious. The best chances for Vijayakanth — and not necessarily the DMDK – is with the PWF, because here he is the CM candidate. This would not have happened if he joined the AIADMK or DMK alliance. “There is a hype surrounding Vijayakanth. It is true that people who were disillusioned by the two Dravidian parties and the Congress looked up to him, but he was not what he was made out to be. But it would also be premature to write him off,” says senior journalist TN Gopalan.
It’s a long way till May 16 and a lot can happen between now and then. But for the time being, unless there is a groundbreaking development, it appears that this Captain is going into a battle he is less likely to win and is commandeering a ship with a restive crew.
(The DMDK, when contacted for a reaction, refused to comment)
The views expressed by the author are personal.