Old filmy dance of TN polls

Even as the poll scene in Tamil Nadu is picking up, there is an interesting filmy tinge in the poll campaign. There are clashes between two top matinee idols – film star turned politician Captain Vijayakanth and Tamil superstar Rajnikanth. Both have their fan clubs and huge fan followings. Affectionately called Captain by his fans after his blockbuster film Captain Prabhakaran, Vijayakanth has the largest fan base in the state. He is also the most sought after politician by the opposition parties.

The immediate provocation came from the Captain who was reported to have criticised Rajnikanth in a public meeting last week claiming that unlike Rajnikanth, he was not afraid of political threats. This has not been appreciated by his fans, resulting in clashes. While the Captain has launched his own outfit Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005, Rajnikanth is yet to make up his mind about entering the political world but all political parties woo him to endorse them.  Vijayakanth, who has acted in over 150 films, is known as Black MGR.

The elections in Tamil Nadu always had a filmy tinge. There is an undeniable link between the film world and politics of Tamil Nadu since the fifties and sixties. Even in the present Assembly polls three of the chief ministerial candidates – DMK chief Karunanidhi, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, and DMDK chief Vijayakanth have film roots while the fourth one Anbumani Ramdoss of the PMK is a qualified doctor.  Even MGR’s wife Janaki who became the first woman Chief Minister for a very brief period after MGR’s death in 1987 was a film star.

The late CN Annadurai, MG Ramachandran, as well as the DMK chief M Karunanidhi, have used the movies to spread their political message.  Annadurai was the forerunner in introducing politics in movie dialogue. The DMK promoted the Dravidian movement, atheism and Tamil Nationalism through the medium of films. Karunanidhi was a great scriptwriter. MGR built a personality cult portraying himself as a pro-poor hero, and his films showed the oppression of the poor and how the subaltern hero MGR fought against it. When MGR moved away from the DMK and launched the AIADMK, the new party continued the MGR myth for coming to power. He remained unassailable until his death in 1987.

Both Rajnikant and Vijayakanth have emulated MGR in their screen life taking on the rich and powerful. Unlike MGR who has carefully cultivated his screen image and transferred it smoothly to his political end, Rajni has cultivated the image of a superman who is on the side of the masses but he does not represent a political movement. Since 1996, when he almost joined the Congress party after meeting the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, Rajni has been hesitant to take that final step. Then he had endorsed the DMK-Tamizhaga Maanila Congress which benefitted the combine. Since then, during every election, there are speculations whether he will plunge into politics but so far he has kept himself away.

Vijayakanth burst into the political scene in 2005 when he floated his DMDK. In 2006, the new party polled about ten percent of the votes and in 2009, it went up to 10.3 percent. The party aligned with AIADMK in 2011 but the ties soured soon and in 2014, he joined the NDA but the vote share came down to 5.1 percent.   

Captian Vijayakanth has chief ministerial ambitions and therefore, he has decided to join the People welfare front consisting of the MDMK, VCK, and the left parties. “My cadres wanted me to be the king. All the alliance partners have asked me to be the chief ministerial candidate”, he said after joining the front. Its vote-share is what makes the DMDK attractive to the opposition parties.

Vijayakanth was actively pursued by the DMK, which has tied up with the Congress. Karunanidhi had publicly expressed the hope that the DMDK would join the DMK-led alliance. The BJP too actively wooed the DMDK. But the DMDK was miffed that while BJP national leaders met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa when they came to Chennai, they ignored Vijayakanth. By aligning with the PWF, Vijayakanth has forced a multi-cornered contest in the state in all the 234 constituencies.

Vijayakanth hopes to emerge as an alternative and he might do so if he plays his cards well, but only in the long run. There are about 25 to 30 percent non-committed voters and Vijayakanth should mobilise their support. While Karunanidhi is on his last leg, Jayalalithaa too is not keeping good health. Therefore, there is space for a new leader to emerge but the Captain has not reached that stage. In view of his sliding vote percentage from ten percent to now about five percent, it is too early to predict his future but for the ensuing Assembly polls, he has emerged certainly as a factor. 

(The author is a senior political analyst. The views are personal.)
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