Frontline Volume 22 - Issue 20, Sep. 24 - Oct. 07, 2005
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THE STATES

Another actor in politics

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
in Chennai

Vijaykant is the latest in the list of film personalities who started their own political parties in Tamil Nadu. The question is whether he will stay on, unlike some of the bigger names before him.



Vijaykant at the launch of his political party, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, at Thoppur near Madurai on September 14.

WHERE Rajnikant, the superstar of Tamil cinema, baulked at the opportunity some years ago, another actor, Vijaykant, who is idolised as "Puratchi Kalaignar" (revolutionary artist), has taken the courage to step in. On September 14, Vijaykant, 44, announced the formation of his political party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK, which translates as the National Progressive Dravidian Party), at a huge rally of his fans' association at Thoppur near Madurai, his home town in Tamil Nadu.

Vijaykant, who has acted in 148 films, converted his Tamil Nadu Vijaykant Fans' Association into a political party. While he is the party's president, S. Ramu Vasanthan, who was the fans' association general secretary, is its general secretary. The association flag is the party flag as well. Vijaykant is the president of the South Indian Artistes' Association (SIAA) and his fans call him "Captain" after the character he portrayed in the film Captain Prabakaran.

He comes from a family with a Congress background and that perhaps explains the inclusion of the word Desiya in the party's name. The DMDK's ideology will be an admixture of nationalism and Dravidian tenets with progressive beliefs. "Many people think that Dravida Nadu includes only Tamils. But people speaking the four southern languages constitute Dravida Nadu. Since we want Dravida Nadu to be part of the Indian Union, we have included the word "Desiya' in the party's name. It is imperative that India should be united," he said.

If opposition to the imposition of Hindi is one of the basic tenets of the Dravidian parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.), the actor served notice that there would be no blind opposition to Hindi by his party. "We will protect the Tamil language. We will learn all languages," he said. There would be "a far-sighted, pragmatic approach" to the language issue. "There was a time when people had deep pro-Tamil language feelings. However, when science has advanced in this age, there is nothing wrong in learning Hindi for trade and commerce, although Tamil should be the first language and English the lingua franca," he said.

The word "progressive" was included in the party's name because the country was still backward in education, economy and other fields. Progressive views and policies were needed to change this situation, he said. He swore that he would combat corruption, and provide good governance if his party was voted to power. His goal, he explained, was to ensure that honesty was part of politics and nobody remained below the poverty line.

The DMDK will contest the Assembly elections scheduled for May 2006, and according to Ramu Vasanthan, the party will go it alone. In the local body elections in 2001, as many as 575 of Vijaykant's fans were elected to posts at various levels.

Vijaykant's speech at Thoppur indicated that youth and women constituted his main constituency and that he wanted to create a disciplined party that would be different from the existing Dravidian parties. He forbade his fans from coming drunk or raising slogans praising him when they travelled to the conference venue. The majority of those who attended the conference were youth and men between the age of 35 and 45.

He said he had founded the DMDK banking on women's support. His wife Premalatha played a prominent role in its formation and he acknowledged that she had stood by him through thick and thin. His family members would not hold any post in the party, he said. If voted to power, 33 per cent of the 234 Assembly seats would be reserved for women, he said. "Why do those who use women to garner votes step back when it comes to reservation for women?" he asked.

Preparations for the conference began several months ago, with his fans busying themselves in painting slogans on walls and erecting hoardings, including illuminated ones, all over the State. "`Puratchi Kalaignar' Vijaykant invites you to the conference," they said. The graffiti and hoardings called him "Napoleon," "Garibaldi", "incomparable leader of the Tamils" and so on. (He belongs to the Naidu community, which has its roots in what is now Andhra Pradesh).

Much hard work and a large sum of money went into the organisation of the conference. What stood him in good stead was the organisation and structure of his fans' association, which is built in the form of a political party with units at the village, panchayat, town, district and State levels. "Only nominally our movement works as a welfare organisation. In fact, it functions like a political party. We have 35,000 units and each unit has at least 100 members," Ramu Vasanthan had said in June 2004 (Frontline, July 30, 2004).

For several months, the marriage hall that Vijaykant owns at Koyambedu in Chennai was the hub of frenetic activity. He directed the formation of the party, prepared a code of conduct for its workers, and formed wings for various groups, including women, students, youth, lawyers and doctors. He also oversaw the formation of a volunteer force of 1,000 handpicked fans, which would be the party's security wing. Members of the force have been trained by ex-servicemen in undertaking security measures.

Vijaykant had made known that the conference would be held in Madurai, a signal that he had not forgotten his roots. At Thoppur, 74 acres (about 30 hectares) of private land was levelled for erecting a huge pandal, the facade of which looked like a fortress from a film set. Hundreds of lights lit up the pandal, and the proceedings of the conference were shown live on closed-circuit television.

The pandal was named after Mahatma Gandhi and Kamaraj. The maidan was called "Anna Thidal" after C.N. Annadurai. In the backdrop on the dais were pictures of Vijaykant himself, the rationalist leader `Periyar' E.V. Ramasami, Kamaraj, Annadurai and M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). The last three were Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu. The display of pictures of all these leaders suggested that the DMDK would be an eclectic party, drawing inspiration from both national and Dravidian leaders.

At the entrance to the pandal were paintings depicting "Tamil Nadu of today". They portrayed communal riots, the plight of farmers, corruption in the police and among other government employees, water scarcity and so on. There were also paintings on "Tamil Nadu of tomorrow", showing rivers awash with surplus water, a casteless society, prosperous weavers and so on.

VIJAYKANT'S attempts to start the party had its share of action, of the variety that he is famous for in his films. If in 2004 he faced violent opposition from the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), now he had to face the wrath of volunteers of the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) led by Thol. Thirumavalavan, a firebrand orator. Incensed by Vijaykant's remark about politicians becoming Ministers without getting elected - a dig at R. Anbumani, Union Health Minister and son of PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss - PMK men attacked his fans, torched their association offices and damaged cinema halls screening his films. Vijaykant's fans hit back and the violent incidents only firmed up his resolve to start a new party.

Now, the actor's fans faced violence from DPI cadre over a controversy involving film artists and a cinematographer. Paradoxically, the DPI and the PMK, which are sworn enemies, have formed the "Tamil Protection Movement". They have made common cause against Tamil films with English titles. (While the DPI was formed to establish the rights of Dalits, the PMK represents mainly Vanniyars, a dominant caste. The two communities are often at loggerheads in northern Tamil Nadu.)

What led to friction between Vijaykant and the DPI was the DPI's allegation that the SIAA had "intimidated" and "forced" Thankar Bachan, a cinematographer, to apologise to artists for reportedly using expletives against some actresses. Thirumavalavan argued that the SIAA's decision was not right because no actress had complained to the SIAA on the issue. "Thankar Bachan was humiliated because of personal animosity. He is already working in tandem with the Tamil Protection Movement. He supported Tamil films having Tamil titles. More than all that, he is acting as a bridge between the Tamil communities of Vanniyars and Adi Dravidars," Thirumavalavan told a Tamil magazine.

On September 12, women members of the DPI staged a protest in Chennai against Vijaykant for what they called "intimidating" and forcing Thankar Bachan to apologise in the SIAA. DPI men tried to burn an effigy of Vijaykant and tore up hoardings announcing the formation of his political party. The violence soon spread and in clashes between supporters of the DPI and Vijaykant at Tindivanam a DPI volunteer was stabbed. In Salem and Erode, hoardings of Vijaykant's party were torn up.

According to Jnani alias N.V. Sankaran, political analyst and Editor of Dheemtharikida, a Tamil magazine, Vijayakant's constituency consists of those who want to give a wide berth to both the DMK, the principal Opposition party in the State, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the ruling party. A vacuum exists in the space between these parties. Onlythe Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could fill that vacuum. But the BJP was weak in Tamil Nadu and it could not offer itself as an alternative. "The Congress can. Vijaykant is trying to create an alliance which will ultimately help the Congress to form a Third Front. He comes from a Congress background," Jnani said. The actor has forged an all-India and Tamil approach to his party and invoked the name of Kamaraj. He has shunned communalism and is not likely to extend support to the BJP although the BJP is wooing him, according to Jnani.

THIS is not the first time that a film actor has founded a party in Tamil Nadu, where politics and cinema sponge on each other. After MGR was suspended from the DMK in October 1972, he founded the AIADMK and rode to power in 1977. He brought Jayalalithaa, his heroine in many films and the present Chief Minister, to politics in 1982 when he was the Chief Minister. She was nominated to the State government's high-level committee on the noon-meal scheme and later made propaganda secretary of the party, of which she is now the general secretary.

`Sivaji' Ganesan, actor par excellence, founded the Tamizhaga Munnetra Munnani in February 1988. Following its dismal performance in the February 1999 Assembly elections, in which `Sivaji' Ganesan himself lost in the Papanasam constituency, he wound up the party.

S.S. Rajendran, who was a member of the DMK and the AIADMK, started the MGR-SSR Latchiya DMK, but it came a cropper. Film actor and director Bhagyaraj established the MGR Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam but it folded up quickly.

T. Vijaya Rajhendherr, actor, director, music composer and story-writer, heads the Akila India Latchiya DMK (All-India Ideal DMK), the second party he has set up; the first was the Thayaga Marumalarchi Kazhagam. He was a legislator elected on the DMK ticket when he left the party to start the Akila India Latchiya DMK .

Both Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi, DMK president and former Chief Minister, have written stories and dialogues for Tamil films.

Rajnikant had the opportunity to start a political party in 1996 but he did not for reasons best known to him, Vijaykant has made bold to do so. He says he has started a movement to work honestly for the people and wants to prove that he is not just another politician.



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