The heart-throb holds the key to Tamil Nadu politics
Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are round the corner but 'Captain' -- as Vijayakanth is known -- isn't saying a word. The heart-throb of millions of Tamils and the leader of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam believes he holds all the aces. A team constituted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, comprising P Chidambaram, Jayanthi Natarajan and others, was despatched to Chennai to negotiate with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
The group made a courtesy call on M Karunanidhi and preferred to hold discussions with its own party, indicating it was in no hurry to conclude any agreements. The Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam led by Jayalalithaa is saying nothing about Vijayakanth.
A lot of people are waiting for Vijayakanth to break his silence. Why is he in great demand?
The DMDK has been growing in strength ever since it was formed in September 2005. It contested on its own, both in the last assembly and Lok Sabha elections. It got 8.38 per cent of the votes in the 2006 assembly elections and 10.08 per cent of the votes in the Lok Sabha elections.
Text: Aditi Phadnis
Who will be the bigger presence?
It secured more than 20,000 votes in 27 assembly segments; more than 15,000 votes in 75 segments; more than 10,000 votes in 169 segments; and more than 5,000 votes in 228 segments in the last parliamentary polls. In other words, it can rain on the winner's parade, even if it doesn't win itself.
Naturally, everyone wants it to be inside the tent facing out, rather than outside the tent, facing in. Most people believe Vijayakanth will align with Jayalalithaa. If that happens, Jayalalithaa will have to make many compromises. The ADMK vote will be attached to Vijayakanth's -- but will Vijayakanth's vote come to the ADMK?
There are hierarchy snafus. Given that he's known as Karuppu MGR (dark MGR), whose pictures will figure on the ADMK's posters? Who will be the bigger presence: Jayalalithaa or Vijayakanth ? And what about joining the government if the ADMK alliance wins?
Image: DMK chief Karunanidhi and AIADMK chief Jayalalitha
Film industry will flock to Vijayakanth
But this much is certain: an additional 8 per cent will represent the difference between victory and defeat for either alliance. The day Vijayakanth makes his preference known, a lot will change in Tamil Nadu politics.
There are two other related factors.
First, the DMK's stranglehold over the south Indian film industry is coming back to bite it in the leg. Whether it is Stalin's son or Azhagiri's, they are the ones who dictate release, production and launch of films. This is creating deep dissatisfaction among a new, younger crop of film directors and actors. They will flock to Vijayakanth if he calls out to them.
Second, the Tamil fishermen are fishing in Sri Lankan waters and are being shot at by the Sri Lankan Navy. The fact is that part of the coastline was policed entirely by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam earlier. Now they have been turfed out and the Sri Lankan navy has taken over. Therefore, the kind of freedom Tamil fishermen enjoyed earlier is no longer available.
The Sri Lankan navy will shoot first and ask questions later. Obviously, the livelihood of fishermen is a big political issue in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa has been more or less camping in the coastal areas and telling the fishermen the DMK can't protect their lives and livelihood.
Image: An election poster with the 'Captain'
Congress and DMDK are keeping quiet
Neither, frankly, can she, if she comes to power. But why worry about that? Right now, this is the biggest issue in the coastal areas. Add to this the campaign by small resurgent Eelam groups that detest the Indian state but hate the DMK more for selling out and not saying a word when the capture of north-east Sri Lanka was on and Prabhakaran was killed. This group is very small but very vocal.
Add to this the unbearable pressure on the DMK-Congress alliance. Kalaignar TV, in which Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu has maximum equity, has been raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
This is like raiding Karunanidhi himself. If the alliance breaks, the government in Tamil Nadu will fall. But there might be greater danger to the government at the Centre: the DMK has 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha. This deficit can be bridged if the Samajwadi Party with 20 MPs is roped back into the United Progressive Alliance. But then if Tamil Nadu elections are due in April-May this year, elections in Uttar Pradesh are due in 2012, where the Samajwadi Party is the Congress' sworn enemyr.
This is why the Congress and the DMDK are keeping so quiet. This is the chance. If the Congress can shrug off the yoke of the Dravidian parties and offer an alternative -- like the short-lived Tamil Maanila Congress -- promising Vijayakanth the chief ministership of Tamil Nadu as the ultimate sacrifice, there might be a sea change in not just Tamil Nadu but Indian politics. There's no telling what might happen.
Image: Fishermen row a boat at sunset in Nagaipattinam, Tamil Nadu