Vijayakanth’s party, the DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam), has finally taken a call to sail with the AIADMK-BJP led front in Tamil Nadu after protracted negotiations and substantial bickering.
The party has settled to contest on four seats and was perhaps hoping for seven. Moreover, it was negotiating with the other front (DMK-Cong), checking out if there were any good offers. Its angst is that its rival the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) was getting seven seats while it was getting four. Both these parties have been vying for the same Vanniyar voter base in northern Tamil Nadu.
The scenes over the last week showed how the party had been driven to desperation to align with a front, as its experiment to lead a third front in 2016 Assembly election had led to a shocking defeat with not one candidate being elected to the TN assembly.
Moreover, questions of Vijayakanth’s ill health continue to dog the party as the actor has not spoken in public or has had a press conference for quite some time. The party is now run by his wife, his brother-in-law and of late his son. Even during the 2016 Assembly election campaign, he had at times sounded incoherent.
When Vijayakanth entered politics in 2005 after acting in around 130-odd films, it was a breath of fresh air and was seen as someone who could stand up and be counted in a state which had polarised itself between the DMK and the AIADMK. Though the Congress party had a presence in Tamil Nadu, it was always aligned with one or the other of the major Dravidian parties.
Vijayakanth was a star of some standing though never as big as Rajinikanth. In the tradition of the do-gooder hero fighting corruption and venality in the system, he made a mark. He gained recognition as someone whose films did well in rural centres. Unlike Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, voters recognise him as someone who stuck his head out when the going was tough, and he stood up to both Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi when it really mattered. He was seen as ‘authentic’ in a state plush with with empty slogans and grand ideologies.
Vijayakanth started off with around 8 per cent vote in 2006 Assembly elections which increased to around 10 per cent in the 2009 parliament elections. He performed well in local body elections too. As his voters were spread across the state, he could win only one seat in 2006 despite getting an 8 per cent vote. In both these elections, he contested alone and without any alliances.
He contested the 2011 assembly elections in alliance with Jayalalitha to defeat Karunanidhi and was sitting pretty with 29 seats in the Assembly. With strident criticism of Jayalalitha he was slowly becoming a focus of opposition politics, However, ill health and the lack of a strong party organisation proved a handicap.
His political charm and draw rested on the fact that he would not easily align with any of the major Dravidian parties but when he started aligning with one of them he started losing his selling point and narrative.
And unlike the other Dravidian parties, he did not place much emphasis on party manifestos or periodic party conferences. His was a more personalised approach and he had come to politics not as an ideologue but as a no-nonsense do-gooder. Even when he repeatedly slapped his partymen in public, his voters did not take it seriously. It was seen a sign of his ‘directness’ and lack of false modesty.
Now, his ill-health, poor party organisation and lack of a coherent narrative continue to haunt the party, but it remains to be seen if his fans and voters still recall him and connect with the shadow of the star.