There is no confusion in my mind, Capt Vijayakanth declared two weeks ago when he said he was going it alone in the Tamil Nadu elections. Given the unpredictability of the actor-turned-politician, however, not everyone is convinced that this is final. As such, no potential ally has given up hope.
DMK chief M Karunanidhi indicated Monday that talks are still on with Vijayakanth’s DMDK, the statement coming at a time Vijayakanth has been attacking the DMK. Karunanidhi said he has not lost confidence that Vijayakanth would join hands with his party. When asked about talks, he said: “Happening.” And when reporters insisted on details, he said: “It may come.”
CPI state secretary R Mutharasan, too, indicated in a public speech Monday that there has been a breakthrough by the People’s Welfare Alliance — a front formed by the CPM, the CPI, Dalit party VCK and Vaiko’s MDMK — in alliance talks with the DMDK.
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DMDK sources conceded there have been some negotiations with the PWA but denied any talks with the DMK. A DMDK leader questioned Karunanidhi’s statement pointing out that the DMK had been adamant that they wouldn’t share power with alliance partners should they win.
Leaders of neither the DMDK nor its potential allies could guess if Vijayakanth would change his mind. “Neither his party nor Vijayakanth himself can predict his decisions,” said a senior CPM leader. “We are open to the idea, we welcome him.” The CPM leader stressed it was important for Vijayakanth to join hands with the PWA to defeat the DMK and the AIADMK.
The announcement that he would go it alone had already dampened spirits in his party. Senior leaders said party offices, which had been abuzz with hundreds of cadres for weeks, are now deserted. Those visitors had been seeking tickets in the hope that there would be an alliance with the DMK. “Even when the DMK refused a share in power, our district functionaries were still in high spirits as they hoped the alliance would help them win seats in the upcoming local body elections. After he decided to go it alone, that excitement has gone,” the leader said. “But Ayya (a term of respect) will have had a reason for all his decisions.”
Vijayakanth has so far cultivated a unique combination as his support base — a mix of his own Telugu-Naidu community, Dalit-Arundhatiyars and sizeable sections of OBCs from central and western Tamil Nadu. This time, however, his charm might not be enough as voters would be aware that he would not be in government; many would flock to his rallies but would likely vote only for a party they see in government.
Vijayakanth has been in politics for 10 years now. Voters’ preference for a fresh face helped him win in 2006, the momentum kept going in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when he had a 10 per cent vote share, and an alliance with the AIADMK won him 29 seats in 2011, before a rift with J Jayalalithaa ended the alliance. Today, he is left with 21 of those 29 MLAs, the other eight having joined the AIADMK. In 2014, he tied up with the NDA and failed to win any Lok Sabha seat as his vote share fell below 5 per cent.
Now, many in his party and outside wonder if his decision has been influenced from within his family. His wife Premalatha and brother-in-law L K Sudhish are both seen as kingmakers. Insiders attribute the 2014 deal with the BJP to Premalatha. “Amma is very very close to leaders in Delhi,” one of the 21 DMDK MLAs used to say. Premalatha, striving to make a mark as an orator, is seen as the lieutenant in the party.
Sudhish, meanwhile, is seen as the man who gets things done. Whether it is the BJP state leadership or an emissary of M K Stalin or CPM leaders, Sudhish has been to them the face of the DMDK, the bridge to reach Vijayakanth. A film producer-turned-politician, Sudhish had begun his film as well as political career in the 1990s after Vijayakanth had married his elder sister.