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Will 'Captain' be the kingmaker?

By Aditi Phadnis
March 28, 2016 10:32 IST
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Why was everyone wooing Vijayakanth and why was he playing hard to get?
Aditi Phadnis reports.

'You will be the king, kingmakers will make you the king,' Vaiko, right, told Vijayakanth, second from right, adding, the alliance will be known as the 'Captain Vijayakanth Front'Narendra Modi had just got elected leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party's parliamentary party. He was in the Central Hall of Parliament to thank his colleagues, his party and also alliance partners of the National Democratic Alliance.

From a distance he spotted DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam) leader 'Captain' Vijayakanth and his wife, Premalatha.

Surrounded as he was by members of Parliament, Modi propelled himself towards the couple, bent low in a namaskar to Premalatha and said with admiration: 'By God! Kya kaam kiya aapne (What an achievement)!'

Those were heady days. The DMDK was part of the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections. The Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP didn't particularly like the idea of being in alliance with the DMDK, but didn't have much of a choice.

The DMDK contested 14 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats, getting around 16 per cent of the votes in those seats. True, Captain did not win a single seat in the Lok Sabha. But the party did manage to put itself in the reckoning in the politics of Tamil Nadu barely a decade after it was born.

The DMDK was formed in 2005, and projected itself as an alternative to the two dominant Dravidian parties -- the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

It contested the 2006 assembly polls and the 2009 Lok Sabha polls alone. Its vote share rose from eight per cent in the 2006 assembly polls to 10 per cent in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

In 2011, the party bagged 29 seats in the assembly polls after aligning with J Jayalalithaa's AIADMK, but the two parted ways shortly afterwards. In 2014 it failed to win any seats. Ahead of the 2016 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, all parties began wooing the DMDK from the word go.

First it was the DMK, which hoped the DMDK would join its alliance; then it was the BJP, which hoped it would replicate the Lok Sabha alliance in the assembly.

The DMDK spurned both, going instead with the left-wing People's Welfare Front comprising the two Communist parties, Vaiko's Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.

So now there are three sets of fronts contesting the Tamil Nadu elections: The Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK on its own; the DMK with the Congress and assorted smaller parties in alliance; and the latest left-wing alliance that includes Vijayakanth's DMDK. Region-specific parties like the Pattali Makkal Katchi are contesting on their own.

From Jayalalithaa's point of view, this is the second-best scenario she could have wished for. The best would, of course, have been five sets of fronts, instead of three, contesting the elections.

The DMK concedes that the DMDK would have been a plus, but is metaphorically shrugging its shoulder. The third front may well emerge as kingmaker in a post-election scenario.

Why was everyone wooing Vijayakanth and why was he playing hard to get?

'Captain' is a film star of some standing. He is known as 'karuppu (dark) MGR' and is conscious -- immoderately so -- that he is Someone.

His followers are a mix of his own Telugu-Naidu community, Dalit-Arundhatiyars and sizeable sections of Other Backward Classes from central and western Tamil Nadu.

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 everything. They (the two Dravidian parties) are looting. Both have slapped bribery cases against each other. Should you still vote for them?' he asks crowds. His plank is development -- good roads, equal educational opportunities and jobs.

Vijayakanth's kitchen cabinet comprises Premalatha and her brother Sudhish. Former AIADMK leader Panruti Ramachandran used to be called the president of the Presidium of the DMDK (phew!) but then he and Vijayakanth argued. In 2014 Ramachandran returned to the AIADMK and will no doubt advise Jayalalithaa on how to vanquish the DMDK.

For Vijayakanth, this is a make-or-break election: After the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle, if he can't resuscitate his party it will lose faith in him and crumble. But the two Dravidian parties are not secure either.

The DMK is going through a painful leadership transition -- with M Karunanidhi bowing out and yet not bowing out for fear that family politics might damage the DMK; and Jayalalithaa unable to name a successor -- the closest she came to was O Panneerselvam, but paranoia overtook political judgement and now he's reportedly out of favour as well.

It is possible that 'Captain's stars might shine a little brighter after May 19. Or not.

IMAGE: 'You will be the king,' Vaiko, right, told Vijayakanth, second from right, adding, the alliance will be known as the 'Captain Vijayakanth Front'.

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Aditi Phadnis
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