Twenty years after his death MG Ramachandran continues to wield an unseen and uncanny sway over Tamil Nadu’s masses, politicians and even filmgoers.
Politicians who have inherited MGR’s legacy and those eying it went through the ritual of garlanding his statues or placing a wreath on his cemetery on the Marina beach today. But the real tribute to the departed AIADMK founder and three-time Chief Minister was paid in the bylanes of Tamil Nadu where devout MGR fans put up small thatched pandals, placed a framed picture and garland around it and played old hits from MGR films.
“For people like me he is God. He gave my father a cycle-rickshaw when he acted in the movie Rickhawkaaran and when he became Chief Minister my mother got employment in a noon meal center,” said Saravanakumar, an autorickshaw driver in Chennai’s Santhome area.
While Jayalaithaa is the major beneficiary, other politicians too are eying the pie. Actor Vijayakanth, having launched his DMDK more than a year ago, does not tire of calling himself “Karuppu MGR” (Black MGR) in an attempt to woo the MGR fan. He says he inherited MGR’s campaign van, as if that would qualify him to be an inheritor of the MGR legacy.
“However hard Vijayakanth tries, people see only the AIADMK and Jayalalithaa as the true inheritors of the MGR legacy, though Jayalalithaa has built her own constituency in the past decade. Karunanidhi even today finds it difficult to shake off MGR’s description of him as an ‘evil force.’ That is the power of MGR’s charisma,” explained Thuglak editor Cho Ramaswamy.
The MGR impact can be clearly seen during a drive through the state - his statues in varying sizes outnumber those of any other leader. Barring the DMK, every other political party makes it a point to play MGR film songs at political meetings.
And during the AIADMK's election campaign there is invariably someone masquerading as the political MGR in fur cap and dark glasses or a filmi version gallivanting on the stage to one his songs.
“One reason for this is that MGR did not stop being the perennial do-gooder who took up the cause of the poor only in his movies but lived up to that image even when he came to power. The free noon meal scheme that he implemented amidst so much of opposition earned him the gratitude of millions of mothers. Even Karunanidhi, who initially dubbed it as a scheme that made beggars out of our children, today serves eggs as part of the scheme,” pointed out former AIADMK Minister and present BJP MP S Thirunaavukarsar.