The poll dance begins: A look at the main players in Tamil politics

  • Aditya Iyer, Hindustan Times, Chennai
  • Updated: May 03, 2016 10:34 IST
Supporters of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa at an election campaign ahead of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly elections in Kanchipuram. (PTI photo)

As the election season heats up along with just about everything else in Tamil Nadu, it’s becoming difficult to keep up with the plethora of parties, splinter groups, and factions that are hoping to curry favour with voters on May 16.

Power in Tamil Nadu has oscillated between its two major Dravidian parties – the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) – for nearly five decades, ever since a brief spell of success the Congress enjoyed in the state withered out with freedom fighter M Bakthavatsalam in 1967.

The sudden prominence given to the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), headed by actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth, and its alliance with the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) has created the possibility of a Third Front appearing on the political battleground of the southern state.

Here is a brief look at all the major parties and coalitions that are contesting the 2016 state assembly elections:

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

M Karunanidhi took over as DMK chief after Annadurai died in 1969. (PTI Photo )

The granddaddy of all political parties in Tamil Nadu, the DMK is the main inheritor of the legacy of E Ramaswamy Naicker – better known as Periyar. Though the leader of the Self-Respect Movement never assumed office, his fiery eloquence shaped the core tenets of the Dravidian political ideology.

The DMK was founded in 1949 by CN Annadurai, one of Periyar’s most loyal lieutenants. Frustrated by his mentor’s refusal to assume public office, “Anna” (elder brother in Tamil) – as he was affectionately known – managed to guide his nascent party to victory in 1967.

Read: Even schoolgirls drinking liquor, DMK will bring total ban: Elangovan

Karunanidhi, who first rose to prominence owing to his role in the 1930’s anti-Hindi movement, became the party leader after Annadurai’s death in 1969.

The former scriptwriter’s long and controversial rule over the DMK has seen the party getting tainted by the 2G scam, and exposed him to numerous allegations of nepotism. After failing to win any seats in the last general election, the party has allied with the Congress in the hope of regaining its lost glory.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

After MGR’s death, Jayalalithaa squared off with his wife – Janaki – for the reins of the party. (PTI photo)

The AIADMK was founded by popular cinema actor MG Ramachandran, who continues to enjoy a significant influence over the public even today – nearly three decades after his death in 1987. In fact, some supporters of Vijayakanth have even tried to draw similarities between the two by calling him “Karuppu MGR” or “Black MGR”.

Rising to prominence in the DMK during the late 50s and early 60s, MGR split from the party in 1977 after claiming that Karunanidhi saw him as a threat to the political prospects of his eldest son, MK Muthu.

Read: TN rallies: Jaya uses chopper, AIADMK-affiliated movie stars hop vans

Christening the party “Anna” after his political mentor Annadurai, MGR went on to dominate Tamil politics – never losing an election till he died in 1987.His demise caused a brief split in the party – with his wife Janaki squaring off against another actor-turned-politician – J Jayalalithaa.

The factions eventually merged under Jayalalithaa in 1989, becoming the most successful political outfit in the state with six assembly election victories.

Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam

Supporters of DMDK supremo Vijayakanth have tried to draw similarities between him and MGR by calling him ‘Karuppu MGR or ‘Black MGR’. (PTI photo)

The DMDK was formed in 2005 by actor Vijayakanth, who promised to scrub Tamil politics clean of corruption and provide an honest alternative to both the DMK and the AIADMK.

In the 2011 assembly elections, the party was able to secure 29 seats. While the DMDK still lost the general elections three years later, it managed to relegate the DMK to third place for the first time in 52 years.

Declaring himself as a “king, not a kingmaker”, Vijayakanth has decided to contest the upcoming elections in alliance with Vaiko’s PWF.

People’s Welfare Front

The PWF is a coalition formed by Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Vaiko in 2015, with an eye on this year’s polls. It consists of four parties in alliance with Vijayakanth’s DMDK – the MDMK, CPI, CPI(M) and the VCK.

Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

MDMK head Vaiko has drawn criticism over his open support for the Tamil Tigers and its deceased leader Prabhakaran. (File photo)

Another rising star in the DMK who claimed to be sidelined by Karunanidhi, Vaiko formed the MDMK – which translates to ‘Renaissance Federation for Dravidian Progress’ – in 1994. Vaiko has always been a controversial leader, especially because of his alleged links with the LTTE and his outspoken support for its late leader, Prabhakaran. The MDMK chief has the dubious honour of being the first MP to be detained under the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act because of these links.

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi

Thol Thirumavalavan has argued that Tamil Nadu’s mainstream parties have drifted away from the original Dravidian ideals espoused by Periyar (Image courtesy:

The VCK – or ‘Liberation Panthers Party’ – is a Dalit political outfit created in 1986 by lawyer Thol Thirumavalavan, who argued that the state’s mainstream parties had drifted away from the original Dravidian ideals espoused by Periyar.

Being a party predicated on the Dalit vote bank, the VCK has often clashed with another caste-based political group – the Pattali Makkal Katchi.

Pattali Makkal Katchi

PMK chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss was a Union minister in the erstwhile UPA government. (HT Photo)

Founded in 1989 by Dr S Ramadoss, the PMK dominates the districts of Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri and is predicated on an OBC group – the Vanniyars. Though it denies allegations of inciting violence, the party has often taken up agitations against inter-caste marriages.

Ramadoss’ son, Anbumani, is the party’s chief ministerial candidate. He is one of only two Lok Sabha members from Tamil Nadu who does not hail from the AIADMK.

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