On Tuesday, prime minister-elect Narendra Modi singled out Premalatha Vijayakant for praise, saying, “Kya kaam kiya isne (What a great job).” Not many at Central Hall would have recognised her as DMDK founder Vijayakant’s wife. But Premalatha and her brother L K Sudhish, the party’s youth wing leader, are the de facto decision makers in the party, formed in 2005, and are said to influence Vijayakant’s decisions.
Though the party failed to win any of the 14 seats it contested, Modi knew DMDK was the only one in the seven-party alliance whose leaders had campaigned in all 39 constituencies of Tamil Nadu. In a party where the leader is inaccessible to the media, it was Premalatha who gave the first indication that the DMDK would not align with the DMK, despite the wooing. She interviewed potential candidates, and was key to Vijayakant eventually choosing to go with the BJP-led NDA, which in turn helped the national party win its only seat from Tamil Nadu: Kanyakumari, which elected Pon Radhakrishnan.
Over the past four elections, Premalatha has emerged one of the party’s leading campaigners. Her speeches are as irreverent as his husband’s, but more structured. To the party cadre, Vijayakant is ‘Captain’ (after a film role) and she is ‘anni’ or elder sister whom they see in person more often than him. Crisscrossing the state, she sold the idea of Modi, promising them a government under him would solve their water and power problems.
None of the 14 candidates the DMDK put up, including Premalatha’s brother Sudhish from Salem, were able to win. In fact, none of them even came second. However, this is unlikely to dampen the BJP’s relationship with the DMDK, going by Modi’s effusive praise of Premalatha and also the bonhomie he displayed with Vijayakant at the NDA meeting.