Let's not forget the Captain factor

Let's not forget the Captain factor

Let's not forget the Captain factor

For several years now, Tamil Nadu has witnessed a demand for coalition politics, moving away from the duopoly of the two Dravidian parties, the AIADMK and the DMK. Other political groupings have been demanding a legitimate share in the spheres of state power structures on the basis of caste, religion and ethnicity.

The democratic trajectory of Tamil Nadu, with its umbilical cord between the film industry and politics, is as alive as ever and continues to make its presence felt.

 This time, there are three key factors that makes the electoral outcome interesting: prohibition, corruption and the conspicuous presence of newly-formed People’s Welfare Front, an alliance of six-parties, including the DMDK, MDMK and the VCK.

People of Tamil Nadu may rewrite political history on May 16. Since 1967, the state has been ruled by either of the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, which have been under the leadership of personalities having strong connection with the film industry, and there was hardly any serious attempt to challenge them in the past.

The two parties had an unprecedented dominance to control reins of power. Nevertheless, both always contested elections in alliance with the Congress, the Left parties, Indian Union Muslim League and other smaller parties without sharing power with them.

Though there was a well articulated uneasiness against them on their political culture and governance, particularly with regard to populism and utter failure of controlling casteist excesses in public spheres, the Dravidian parties have been successful in occupying state political power.

It was only in the recent decades that constructive criticism emerged from the Dalits. This was also the culmination of a certain landmark in political processes and history such as opening of the economy, implementation of Mandal Commission report, and 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.

However, the Dalits were not able to provide a strong and formidable electoral challenge to the existing dominant parties. In this backdrop, the rural poor, particularly the depoliticised youth, seriously looked for an alternative to the Dravidian parties, but once again from the same celluloid world. In fact, the mid 1990s speculation and expectations were that actor Rajinikanth would come forward to lead the state and give relief from the drudgery and sycophancy of the Dravidian parties.

Unfortunately, Rajinikanth did not take up the challenge. At one level, increasing disquiet with Dravidian parties and on the other hand, expectation of the youth have paved positive ground for Vijayakanth, also known as “captain,” to emerge. Unlike Rajinikanth, Vijayakanth has been consistent in doing philanthropic activities both inside and outside the celluloid industry.

Captain’s generosity

It is important to note that Vijayakanth’s generosity is widely acknowledged by the people. He had generously donated after the tsunami struck Tamil Nadu in 2004. In 2002, when Tamil Nadu witnessed a serious drought, particularly in the southern and western districts where weaving communities were badly affected, Vijayakanth purchased their products worth more than Rs 10 lakh. Vijayakanth’s good work as president of Actors’ Association – an influential organisation in the film industry and politics – was well appreciated.

It is a well-known fact that film star and former chief minister M G Ramachandran (MGR) was highly recognised for his generosity. Vijayakanth literally followed in his footsteps. Though he may not be as successful in politics like MGR, he has created an aura around himself, and it is this factor that can majorly impact the electoral outcomes, particularly after the 2011 Assembly elections where the AIADMK and the DMDK swept the poll, nullifying the DMK’s presence.

Though there was a setback for the DMDK in parliamentary elections, the Vijayakanth factor has once again begun to rear its head.  Both national and regional parties of all hues eagerly waited and gave him a red carpet reception to have DMDK in their alliance. However, Vijayakanth surprised everyone by aligning with the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) which has the VCK, MDMK, CPI, CPM and TMC, taking the challenge as chief ministerial candidate of the alliance with a lion’s share of seats (104 out of 234), making it clear that he wants to be a king, rather than a kingmaker.

After this announcement, the AIADMK and the DMK were shaken.
It is also interesting to note the portrayal of Vijayakanth, the DMDK and the PWF by the mainstream media. Before DMDK’s alignment with PWF, both PWF and DMDK were being reported as a significant factor by the media. However, after the announcement of their alliance, all parties within the Front are not being covered adequately and are being portrayed negatively.  

Nevertheless, whether one likes it or not, this election has witnessed an unprecedented opposition to the DMK and the AIADMK.  The DMDK is likely to encash the younger generation voters, which constitutes around 1.5 crore and thus are critical in deciding the outcome.

It is highly likely that the verdict may throw a hung Assembly, and the Vijayakanth-led alliance will play a pivotal role in government formation. The outcome of the Assembly election is a riddle, which a pre-poll survey may not be able to capture.

(The writer is an associate professor at Madras Institute of Development
 Studies, Chennai)

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