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Explained: Can Captain Vijayakanth save his marooned ship?

Tamil Nadu elections: While it is almost certain that Vijayakanth won't be able to make a complete comeback, Premalatha keeps cadres' hopes afloat as she is seen as decisive and a good orator.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: March 10, 2021 3:00:43 pm
Vijayakanth in Tuticorin district (Express photo by Arun Janardhanan)

Captain Vijayakanth’s DMDK decided to quit the AIADMK-BJP alliance on Tuesday following a disagreement over the distribution of seats. At a time when Rajinikanth has abandoned his plans to enter politics, and Kamal Haasan is going full steam ahead with them, matinee star Vijayakanth’s DMDK continues to enjoy a support base in the state.

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His entry

As an actor, Vijayakanth used to be known as the ‘Raja of B and C Class theatres’, meaning that even when his movies bombed at the box office, they would fetch good money for producers from theatres in the smaller towns. When he launched his party in 2005, Vijayakanth’s strength was this fan base, particularly the socially and economically backward Dalits and OBCs. He also continues to have command over the Telugu Naidu community to which he belongs and which forms a small but loyal fan base in the state.

In the 2006 Assembly polls, the DMDK contested in all the 234 constituencies in the state. While Vijayakanth was the only candidate of the party to win, the DMDK fetched a substantial 8% vote share, shocking smaller and much more established parties as S Ramadoss’s PMK and Vaiko’s MDMK, and forcing the AIADMK and DMK to take note of him.

His ideology

Having no ideology was his ideology when he launched the party in 2005. His fans called him ‘Karuppu MGR (swarthy MGR)’, while J Jayalalithaa once dismissed him as “mere dust”. Neither did Vijayakanth have any strong ideas regarding governance. But his popularity as a hero helped him ride over these shortcomings.

Captain Vijayakant campaigns in Tamil Nadu ahead of the Assembly polls (Twitter/@iVijayakant)

Poll performance

From 8.4% vote share in 2006, the DMDK went up to 10.3% in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In the 2011 Assembly polls, it got 7.9% votes and even emerged as the second largest party. But since then, the DMDK has been on the decline, with 5.1% votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and 2.4% in the 2016 Assembly elections (yielding zero seats) as part of a third front of Left and Dalit parties. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the DMDK contested four seats as part of the AIADMK-NDA alliance and lost in all.

Vijayakanth’s health problems have contributed to the DMDK’s decline. For the past two years at least, he has been unable to address rallies even as he continues to be a presence at party meetings led by his wife Premalatha and her brother L K Sudheesh.

The DMDK’s falling support base means the AIADMK probably didn’t sweat much rejecting the party’s demand for at least 25 seats.

What next

Other than Premalatha and Sudheesh, one of the two sons of Vijayakanth, Vijay Prabhakar, has entered politics now. While it is almost certain that Vijayakanth won’t be able to make a complete comeback, Premalatha keeps cadres’ hopes afloat as she is seen as decisive and a good orator.

Partymen speak of her reaction after Sasikala was released from prison and AIADMK leaders played her down as a mere convict. Still a part of the AIADMK then, Premalatha had said that Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami should remember that he wasn’t elected by the people but Sasikala, that he should be “thankful”.

However, the DMDK’s future looks bleak without a Vijayakanth to rally around. In the coming elections, it might align with T T V Dhianakaran’s AMMK or Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam. Or, like in 2006, contest in all the 234 seats and garner as much of the vote share as possible, with at least one candidate — Vijayakanth or Premalatha — winning from Virudhachalam or Panruti.

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