Vijayakanth - Is he the right alternative?
Vijayakanth, who went by the name of Azhagarswami Vijayaraj before his foray into the film world in early 1980s has acted in hundreds of Tamil films, usually targetted at the audience from the rural and semi-urban populace of Tamil Nadu. Unimaginative storyline and very basic presentation in all but a handful of films meant that producers of those movies were still able to make some money at the end of the day, which also meant that Vijayakanth kept churning out films at regular intervals. Most often he would don the role of a village goody standing up for the obvious injustice or a super cop single handedly eradicating the terror menace etc. Vijayakanth's hundredth movie 'Captain Prabhakaran' based on the story of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan was a runaway hit that his fans started calling him 'Captain' since the early 1990s. One does not know for how long Vijayakanth has been nurturing political ambitions in his mind, but it is a fact that for several years now he was steadily building up an image of a philanthropist - donating things of utility value like sewing machines, wheel chair, iron boxes etc to the poor and needy on occasions like his birthday.
Since mid-1990s, whenever the mainstream media in Tamilnadu run out of news stories, they will resort to speculating about actor Rajinikanth's political entry. In the last fifteen years or so, tonnes of newsprint have been spent on the possible political strategies of Rajinikanth that never happened. Rajinikanth's stoic silence only helped to fuel these stories. It was at a time like this in early 2000, Vijayakanth started to do the groundwork for his entry in the political arena. He not only streamlined his fans association spread across the state, but also introduced a flag and emblem for them. Few cryptic one-liners in his movies (Vaanjinathan, Vallarasu, Narasimha etc) were enough for the media to move their attention to this dark complexioned, plumpy man who started to call himself 'Karuppu MGR' (Dark MGR). During this time, Vijayakanth was the President of South Indian Cine Artiste's Association (Nadigar Sangam in Tamil) and he did a good job of making the association debt free, that brought out his organisational skills. Given the kind of political nexus in the Tamil cine world and its own complications, this seemingly easy job is no cake walk.
After a lot of 'Will-he or Wont-he' debates, Vijayakanth floated 'Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam' (DMDK) in September 2005. When he started the party, Tamilnadu was ruled by Jayalalithaa's AIADMK and all the 40 MPs of the state were from Karunanidhi led DMK and its allies that included Congress, Vaiko's MDMK, Ramadoss' PMK etc. Right from the day he started the party, Vijayakanth was sending out a message to the people that he is the best alternative to either of the other 'Kazhagams' (parties). Although Vijayakanth never missed an opportunity to distance himself from both the fronts, but for reasons best known to him, he was landing softer punches on Jayalalithaa than Karunanidhi. Though he didn't say the means, Vijayakanth on many occasions has said that his party will be dead against corruption.
Within a year of forming his party, DMDK had to face the Tamilnadu Assembly elections in 2006. On one side, there was the ruling AIADMK with its allies MDMK and Thol. Thirumavalavan's Vidudhalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). On the other side, there was Karunanidhi's DMK along with Congress, Communists, PMK etc. Vijaykanth's party was the only one in the state to enter the fray without any alliance. They contested in all the 234 constituencies with Vijayakanth himself contesting at Virudachalam, which was considered to be the stronghold of Paataali Makkal Katchi. In all, they secured around 8% of the total votes polled, with Vijayakanth winning by a handsome margin. Although DMDK won only in one constituency, they were close second in handful of constituencies and were responsible for deciding the outcome in few more. This is a significant outcome, given the fact that neither of the bigger players could be anywhere near the half-way mark required to form the government on its own.
Few months after the Assembly elections, Vijayakanth's DMDK contested in Tamilnadu Local Body elections, without joining hands with any other party. It was an election that was a shame to the State Government for the violence the ruling party retorted to. DMDK achieved reasonable success at this time as well. It is to be remembered that the party which earlier contested on 'Murasu' (drum) symbol had to contest on 'Deepam' (lamp) symbol during the civic body elections. In the months that followed, Vijayakanth's party contested in two by-elections for the Assembly elections (Madurai Central and Madurai East) giving a tough run for Jayalalithaa's AIADMK by making them sweat for the second position. Ruling DMK won both the by-elections, but more glaring was the very marginal difference in the number of votes polled by AIADMK and DMDK candidates, who stood second and third respectively. However, in the third by-election held at Thirumangalam constituency couple of months back, DMDK candidate lost his deposit despite the fact that Vijayakanth spent several days during the campaign.
In the meanwhile, performance of the State Government led by Muthuvelar Karunanidhi gave ample opportunities for Vijayakanth to attack the ruling party and their allies. Karunanidhi tried to score a point over Vijayakanth by bulldozing a good part of the marriage hall in Chennai owned by Vijayakanth in the pretext of widening the highway. While Vijayakanth and Karunanidhi were exchanging verbal blows, Jayalalithaa Jayaram didn't want to be left behind. Throwing civility to the winds, she termed him a drunkard provoking Vijayakanth to retort.
Leaving aside the verbal war, DMDK was fast acquiring every characteristic of a typical political party. The party was playing host to several seasoned politicians like Panruti Ramachandran, Ponnusamy, K.P.Krishnan from other parties and even saw few of them leave for greener pastures. It is a different story altogether that few of those who joined DMDK and given organisational responsibilities were convicted of corruption charges. Vijayakanth's party also had allegations of bribery to get party posting, family domination and what not. DMDK opened party offices in far off Mumbai and New Delhi as well. Also, it contested the civic body polls in Mumbai.
While this writer is not very sure about Vijayakanth's performance as legislator in his constituency, there was nothing impressive about his attendance to the Assembly. Being a first time legislator and that too as a leader of party that was growing up, his presence and participation in the house proceedings would have given him umpteen opportunities not only take part in the democratic process but also to officially record his views. For a person who has made no secret of his desire to become the Chief Minister of the state, he didn't come off as a person so keen on learning. Outside of the assembly as well, Vijayakanth never put forward any bright ideas, if he had any in the first place. While he never missed a chance to lambast those in power accusing them of doing little, he never shared his priorities and ideas about good governance. When the entire state was reeling under acute power shortage, Vijayakanth claimed that he has got ideas to solve the problem within five months of being voted to power. Only that he will keep the ideas to himself. When the emotive Srilankan ethnic issue was hotly discussed, Vijayakanth's deafening silence gave further proof about his cluelessness.
Although his strength lies in getting projected as a fresh leader of a young party who should be given a chance, as he has neither been subjected to any corruption charges nor allied with a corrupt party, it is still not clear if it is financially viable for him to run alone every time. In the run up to the 2009 parliamentary elections, all eyes were on Vijayakanth, but he kept his cards close to his chest. One fine morning he will claim that he is the only one who has got the guts to face the electorate all alone, but the same evening he will change tack and say that he will ally only with those who promised that they will do wonders for the state. It was not his plan to confuse others; rather he was a confused man himself. Apart from giving open indications about a possible alliance with Congress, he was seen moving closer to them before drifting apart.
Apart from his well published aim of ruling the state, Vijayakanth will do well to publicise how he plans to govern the state if at all he is given a chance. With about 10% of the popular votes in his kitty, by going it alone in the 2009 parliamentary elections, all he is likely to do is to split the anti-incumbency votes against the DMK-Congress combine, which is likely to favour the ruling party more than anyone else. If that is his intention, then he will be better off making that clear.
DMDK, as a party is very young. Given the nature of Indian politics, it is out of place to talk about second rung leadership in parties that are dependent on an individual's charisma. Yet, if you look inside the party, the only other faces that are visible are that of his better half and her brother. This is hardly any different from DMK's family politics, which he is supposedly against. He claims to have zero tolerance policy against corruption, but does not mind being in the company of Congress, which is an epitome of corruption. Also, he doesn't seem to mind about the kind of people who get enrolled in his party, as there are handful of convicted men in DMDK's party structure. Like every other political party, Vijayakanth appear to be a pseudo-secularist. It didn't take much time for him to declare that Bharatiya Janata Party is communal.
Vijayakanth claims that he is the right alternative and beseech the people to give him a chance. With him being a bundle of contradictions and no different from other parties, it will be good if he can explain in what he is different. Otherwise, people of the state will be better off if he looks at an alternative career.