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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Premalatha: The husband, the son and DMDK’s spirited matriarch

Refused the number of seats it wanted by the ruling AIADMK, the DMDK has tied up with T T V Dhinakaran’s AMMK this time. In the 60 seats the DMDK has been allotted in this new tie-up, Premalatha, who is in her 50s, is contesting from Virudhachalam.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
March 22, 2021 12:53:43 am
A candidate from Vijayakanth’s old seat. (Photo: Arun Janardhanan)

SHE EMERGES from atop her campaign vehicle, her hands folded — the imagery not lost on a Tamil Nadu electorate with strong memories of J Jayalalithaa still. She works the crowd with her oratory, and she is clear about the future of the DMDK, a party led by her ailing husband Vijayakanth, that she is now shouldering: the baton, she says, has been picked up by son Vijay Prabhakar, 29.

Refused the number of seats it wanted by the ruling AIADMK, the DMDK has tied up with T T V Dhinakaran’s AMMK this time. In the 60 seats the DMDK has been allotted in this new tie-up, Premalatha, who is in her 50s, is contesting from Virudhachalam. The election will determine the future of the party after having lost all the seats in the 2016 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Talking to The Indian Express during her tour of Virudhachalam, Premalatha keeps emphasising that Prabhakar is as much at the forefront of the DMDK campaign as her. “Virudhachalam was the first seat won by the Captain (as Vijayakanth is referred to) and the party in 2006. We won again from here in 2011. The people here have immense love for him,” she says, adding, “During his (Vijayaka -nth’s) campaigns, I have stayed up to a month here as the Captain had to travel for other candidates.”

It was with the 2006 Assembly polls that Vijayakanth first came to notice. While the DMDK won just Virudhachalam in that election, the party that was just one year into its formation had bagged 8.4% of the votes. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the DMDK vote share had risen to 10.3% votes. In the 2011 Assembly polls, the DMDK contested 41 seats as a part of the AIADMK alliance and won 29 — emerging as the second-largest party as the DMK suffered a big defeat.

The DMDK’s decline started with the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the AIADMK struck an alliance with the BJP. The party lost all the 14 seats it contested, with its vote share plunging to 5.1%. In the 2016 polls, the DMDK led a third front but didn’t just lose all the 105 seats it contested, its vote share went further down to 2.4%. The decline coincided with the worsening health of Vijayakanth. Premalatha scotches the illness claims, saying, “The Captain is fine now. He will come for campaigning in the last week of elections.”

According to Premalatha, the DMDK paid a price for the unpopularity of the AIADMK-BJP alliance. “People hated the BJP and we had issues with the PMK.”

This time round, Premalatha says, the AIADMK delayed seat-sharing. “Even after they offered us very few seats, we agreed and demanded the list of constituencies. But they insisted that we sign the alliance deal first. That was the point when we decided to leave.”

Another reason was allocation of Virudhachalam to the PMK — the DMDK seeing it as part of a pattern of its strongholds being given away without consulting it.

The PMK has fielded from the seat a Vanniyar, a dominant community in Virudhachalam; Premalatha is concentrating on the over 60% non-Vanniyar votes.

The poll arena is a world far removed from Premalatha’s origins as the daughter of a sugar mill manager from Vellore’s Gudiyattam village. Vijayakanth picked her as he wanted to marry someone outside the film industry. Now, with Vijayakanth ailing, along with Premalatha, it’s her brother L K Sudheesh who holds the reins of the party.

Joined by Prabhakar. “He was upset about the AIADMK alliance… Now he will go to all constituencies and campaign,” Premalatha says of her son.

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