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Tamil Nadu: Will Vijayakanth be the captain?

March 13, 2009 08:51 IST

Will Vijayakanth act as a spoiler in Tamil Nadu politics? Or can he intervene in a meaningful way to upset the apple carts of both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), led by Muthuvel Karunanidhi, and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK), led by Jayalalithaa?

Those living to the north of the Vindhyas can be forgiven for asking who Vijayakanth is. The answer? He is the heartthrob of a million hearts, "the Captain" or Karruppu MGR (dark MGR). The hero of several dozen Tamil films, Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK) got just one seat in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in 2006. But his party was able to affect the outcome of elections in at least 78 constituencies.

Vijayakanth's campaign and party manifesto is simple to the point of being naive. He is opposed to both the DMK and the ADMK. So does that put him in the camp of the Congress? No, he doesn't support the Congress either, at least not just yet.

The fact is, there is a 9 per cent vote in Tamil Nadu that is uncommitted: It votes for neither the DMK nor the ADMK. It is this vote that Vijayakanth is hoping to get. And the party that aligns with him will have access to this vote as well.

What are the issues in the Lok Sabha election in Tamil Nadu. The fact is, the current ruling party in the state - the DMK - is also a major player at the Centre. The DMK got 40 out of 40 (Tamil Nadu has 39 and Pondicherry has 1) seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha election because of the formidable strength of the alliance he forged - the Democratic Front comprising the
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Left parties, and the Congress.

That alliance has come unstuck. The only element left in the DF is now the Congress. The Left parties have joined up with Jayalalithaa, the PMK is going to contest against the DMK and there's the additional problem of Vijayakanth.

This is not the only problem. 2006 marked Karunanidhi's fifth term as party leader and chief minister (CM). 85 now, Karunanidhi, is in the process of creating a succession plan. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) he has created is a huge, well-oiled machinery with investments in television, cinema, newspapers, real estate, etc. Who will inherit all
this? And will those who think they're going to inherit it, keep the party and the family together till it is time?

The DMK's record of governance has by no means been unmarred. The power situation in the state continues to be grim. In a time of slowdown, what used to be a force multiplier for Tamil Nadu - rapid industrialisation - has become an albatross. There is widespread unemployment in export hubs like Tiruppur and several industrial houses have been laying off
workers.There has been an extended face off between sugarcane farmers in the state and sugar mill owners. In a time of glut in sugar, farmers, naturally expect to be given higher cane prices, something mills are simply not able to do.

These would not have been issues in a Lok Sabha election. But the same party which is power in the state is in power at the Centre.

In the circumstances, it is hard to tell how the elections in Tamil Nadu will turn out. This much is certain: Vijayakanth will be an important factor.

Aditi Phadnis
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