DMDK founder-leader and popular yesteryear Tamil actor Vijayakanth, who sowed the seeds of hope among his supporters on the possibility of a real alternative to the Dravidian majors, the DMK and AIADMK died here on Thursday following illness.
Praised as ‘Karuppu MGR’ (black MGR) by his fans for his generosity, Vijayakanth had been ill and kept a low profile for the past 4-5 years and his wife Premalatha formally took over the reins of the DMDK on December 14 and she was declared the general secretary at a party meet here.
Vijayakanth aged 71 was popular as ‘Captain’ after he performed the role of an IFS officer in the 1991 blockbuster Tamil movie ‘Captain Prabhakaran.’ He is survived by his wife and two sons. Vijayakanth was born Vijayaraj to KN Alagarsamy and Andal Alagarsamy in the temple town of Madurai. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister M K Stalin were among a string of leaders to condole the death.
The acclaimed actor, even before he gave the hope of a new messiah after his political entry in 2005, had a huge fan following, which he organised well into a structural unit and that stood him in good stead when he took the political plunge. Respected as a philanthropist and hailed by the Tamil film world and fans alike for over two decades (since the early 1980s) as ‘the macho actor’ and real life saviour, that impressive on and off-screen charisma appeared to translate well electorally too, considering the DMDK’s performance, which bet on eradicating poverty and corruption. Vijayakanth’s spirited fight against graft in movie ‘Ramana’ immediately struck a chord with the electorate during his initial years in politics.
Within a year of its founding, the Vijayakanth-led party garnered about 8.40 per cent votes in the 2006 Assembly election, though only Vijayakanth managed to win. His maiden win from Virudhachalam in northern Tamil Nadu, where the Pattali Makkal Katchi wielded considerable influence, was seen as a positive sign of his mass appeal.
His run-in with the PMK, which opposed the entry of actors into politics helped him strengthen his political standing. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the actor- turned-politician’s party had a little over 10 per cent vote share. Though Vijayakanth had often repeated that his ‘alliance is only with the people,’ the party allied with the AIADMK in the 2011 Assembly elections. The Jayalalithaa-led bloc won the polls and the DMDK founder went on to become the Leader of the Opposition (2011-16) by winning from the Rishivandiyam constituency in northern TN. In 2011, the DMDK won 29 Assembly segments after contesting 41 seats (nearly eight per cent vote share) and emerged as the second largest party. Though an ally, he questioned the powers-that-be and his verbal duel with Jayalalithaa in the Assembly took the state by storm and he appeared all set to break the hegemony of the Dravidian parties, that have held sway for over half a century in Tamil Nadu’s politics.
After the AIADMK-DMDK alliance soured, the DMDK joined the BJP-led alliance for the 2014 general election, in which, the PMK and Vaiko-led MDMK were also constituents. In the alliance, though Vijayakanth’s party got the lion’s share of 14 out of 39 LS seats in Tamil Nadu, it failed to win even a single seat and the party’s vote share plummeted to 5.1 per cent. In the 2016 Assembly polls, the DMDK was the major party in the Makkal Nala Kootani (People’s Welfare Front), a four-party front in which the Left parties, MDMK and the VCK were partners. The alliance parties faced a rout and the Chief Ministerial candidate of the front, Vijayakanth lost his deposit in Ulundurpet.
The DMDK could only garner about 2.4 per cent vote share in 2016 and in the 2019 LS polls drew a blank after contesting in four Parliamentary constituencies as part of the AIADMK-BJP alliance and it also lost the EC recognition of a state party.
The gradual slide continued between 2011 and 2016 when functionaries and MLAs had either quit the party or were expelled over several issues. From 2016 onwards, Vijayakanth’s health gradually deteriorated and in view of his poor health he could not devote time for party affairs. Considering factors such as absence of robust second-rung leaders, the party’s decline appeared irreversible.
Under Premalatha’s stewardship, the DMDK faced the 2021 Assembly election as a partner of the TTV Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam and it faced a rout again. Vijayakanth named one of his two sons as Prabhakaran and championed the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka. His wedding with Premalatha and several family functions had been presided over by late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. MIOT International hospital said in a press release: ”Captain Vijayakanth was on ventilatory support following his admission for pneumonia. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff he passed away in the morning on 28th December 2023.” While the party statement had said that Vijayakanth had tested positive for coronavirus and was under ventilator, the hospital bulletin said he battled pneumonia. Hospital sources said the party issued that statement even before the results for the second round of samples were available.