The late MG Ramachandran is, perhaps, the most illustrious chief ministers of Tamil Nadu. Such is the popularity and charisma of the actor-turned-politician that almost three decades after his demise every political party fights to appropriate his name.
The greatest beneficiary of his legacy has been the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)—after all MGR broke away from the DMK to form this party and was its head till his death in 1987. Election after election the AIADMK has used the MGR factor to win votes and keep MGR fans and party loyalists attached to the party.
However, if one were to look at the AIADMK campaign so far it gives the impression that MGR no longer enjoys the prominent space he once used to command, especially during elections.
“It should be understood that AIADMK is in the control of J Jayalalithaa. Though leaders talk about EVR Periyar, Annadurai and MGR, the activities and programmes need not follow their visions anymore”, says Srinivasan V, a social activist. “The CM started her campaign from the Island Grounds [in Chennai] but I’m not sure if she visited the memorials of Anna and MGR, which are close to the venue, before starting the campaign.”
Party loyalists disagree to such views and still vouch by MGR’s name. “MGR is an integral part of every Tamilians life. So how can anyone, especially the AIADMK ignore him?” a businessman running a shop outside the AIADMK’s main office in Royapettah, Chennai, who did not want to be named fearing political repercussions, said.
“The AIADMK is promoting brand Amma. MGR is forgotten in the AIADMK circles,” TKS Elangovan, DMK spokesperson told Hindustan Times at the DMK headquarters, Anna Arivalayam, at Chennai on Thursday. “The AIADMK is surviving because of their [MGR fans] support, but the party wants to win this elections using brand Amma.”
This view gets reinforced when one sees the AIADMK’s main office in Royapettah, Chennai. A gold-painted MGR statue stands in the courtyard and surrounding it are large multi-colour flex boards carrying the photograph of AIADMK leader and chief minister J Jayalalithaa asking the cadre to vote the party back to power by securing all the 234 seats in the assembly. Even in the stalls opposite the party office most of the AIADMK-related merchandise has Amma, and not MGR, on it.
This change could be because the AIADMK is changing its election tactics. After all, a generation of voters born after the 1990s are not familiar with the ‘Makkal Thilagam’—one of the many titles MGR enjoyed.
“MGR is still a very relevant figure in Tamil Nadu’s politics, especially for the AIADMK. The mere fact that DMDK’s Vijayakanth calls himself ‘black MGR’ goes to show that the appropriation of MGR’s legacy is still a thing to be coveted”, says R Kannan, a senior UN official and the author of ‘Anna’.
“He is probably a man who will take a longer time to fade away because he was no ordinary superstar. He was almost god on earth to many people. In Tamil Nadu’s rural heartland, in places where the AIADMK has a base, MGR is still very important.”