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Home > India > News > Columnists > Aditi Phadnis

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Vijayakanth : The next dark horse in TN

January 10, 2009

The by-election to the Thirumangalam Assembly seat is due on January 9 and the results on January 12. If Tamil Nadu is going to be one of the states crucial for the fortunes of the alliance which hopes to rule India after the next general election, Thirumangalam will offer important clues - a preview, if you like - of the way the state is thinking. 

Judging by the heavy hitters who have landed on this sleepy town near Madurai [Images] over the last ten days or so, it is clear that all parties are staking their prestige on the election.

Why is Thirumangalam important? The death of the sitting MLA Veera Ilvararasan from Vaiko's party, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) occasioned the by-election. As Vaiko is in alliance with Jayalalithaa's AIADMK, he graciously vacated the seat for her party.

The constituency is dominated by the Mukkalathor (thevar) caste whose leader Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar supported Subhash Chandra Bose for the presidentship of the Congress and later founded the Forward Bloc in Tamil Nadu. So Thevars - classified by the British as a martial caste - are not only the precursors of the militant Tamil movement in India and
Sri Lanka [Images], but see themselves as proud inheritors of a vigorous anti-British movement. It was Pandithurai Thevar who along with VO Chidamparam Pillai in 1907 formed the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company to break the British monopoly on the profitable Colombo-Tuticorin steamer service.

Three candidates are in the fray representing the three major forces in the area. The AIADMK nominee is the man who was defeated by the Vaiko candidate. The DMK nominee is a woman and though Madurai is the area of the influence of Karunanidhi's elder son Azhagiri, his younger brother and DMK heir Stalin has made up with him to ensure the DMK wins the seat. The two brothers have camped in the constituency for extended periods.

But the dark horse - and this is the point of this story - is the Desiya Morpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) nominee, a local strongman who got more than 19,000 votes in the last election in the constituency. The DMDK is headed by film actor Vijayakanth and Madurai is his area of influence. As Vijayakanth currently has a comfortable hold on 10 per cent of the popular vote in Tamil Nadu, what happens to him, Thirumangalam and after, will decide which way Tamil Nadu will go in 2009.

What is Vijayakanth's politics? It is not at all clear. Known as "Captain" he likes to be called Karruppu MGR (dark MGR) that immediately catapults him to another plane in the politics of Tamil Nadu. If he is MGR, what does that make Jayalalithaa? When asked about the DMDK "threat" a few months ago, she responded that after a spell of rain, it was natural for some moss to spring up, but added that moss had a way of drying up in the heat.

For Tamil Nadu, fed on ideology and election rhetoric, Vijayakanth's campaign is simple to the point of being naive. "There is corruption everywhere, in every thing. They (the two Dravidian parties) are looting. Even the power cut is only to help them take bribes in the darkness. Both have slapped bribery cases against each other. Should you still vote for them?" he asked a roaring crowd a few months ago at a party meeting. His plank is development - good roads, equal educational opportunities and jobs.

"If the DMDK comes to power, I will remove the power cuts in just five months." For Tamil Nadu which faces eight-hour power cuts a day, this has some traction. But if it is corruption he wants to root out, the candidate he has fielded in Thirumangalam is not the best poster boy for the idea. Of course, income tax raids on Vijayakanth and his associates in January 2007 were described by him as part of political vendetta.

Vijayakanth's kitchen cabinet comprises his wife Premlatha, her brother and former AIADMK leader Panruti Ramachandran, who is called the President of the Presidium of the DMDK. Phew! It is Ramachandran who is directing alliances. Some antipathy to the AIADMK is to be expected as he was "driven out" of the party because of court politics by Jayalalithaa's associate, Sasikala, he told reporters. But pragmatic politics may intervene once results come out.

If it was Vijayakanth's intention to offer the people of Tamil Nadu change from Dravidian rule, his best bet would have been the Congress. But that he and the Congress haven't been able to tie up so far is partly because of his ambition but mostly because of the Congress's inability to see beyond its nose.

KV Thangabalu, who is the president of the state unit of the Congress, took over a few months ago, after the party had been headless for several years. When he went to the Congress headquarters for the first time, he decided to change things around - literally. The services of a vastu specialist were sought. Why was the Congress not doing well? Did it have something to do with the way the party office was positioned? The expert's considered opinion was that a building with an odd number of Ashoka trees was inauspicious. Thangabalu stood outside and counted. Sure enough there were an odd number of these trees. Instead of cutting one tree, all Ashoka trees in the office were cut. The location of the entrance gate was changed. But the most important vastu suggestion was: dead people's
photographs with living people on the walls was not conducive to good fortune. So one entire wall in the Congress office in Tamil Nadu isdedicated only to leaders who are no longer with us.

Congressmen say it is Vijayakanth the party needs, not vastu. A committee of 80 people likely to be set up by New Delhi [Images] will decide what to do about it.

Meanwhile the Captain's team swells.

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