Captain of a Sinking Ship?
As the DMDK’s Vijaykanth positions himself as a CM-maker and an alternative force in Tamil Nadu politics, Vikatan asks political analysts what the numbers really say
By Sandhya Ravishankar (@sandhyaravishan)
When Vijaykanth, leader of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), better known as Captain, took the stage in Madurai in 2005 at the launch of his party, the excitement amongst the crowd was palpable. “Here comes change, an alternative at last,” exulted a young supporter of the former film star at the rally in Madurai. Riding a heady wave of expectation and raucous electioneering, Vijaykanth made a dazzling political debut – over 8.38% voteshare in his party’s very first poll and a lone MLA seat for the star himself. His strategy worked at the time – lashing out at both Dravidian behemoths, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the angry not-so-young man, lived up to his large screen stereotype.
The next election, the 2009 parliamentary polls, saw Vijaykanth’s voteshare rising further. Political analysts were certain he was the shooting star of Tamil Nadu politics, the only real threat to Karunanidhi of the DMK and Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK. The shooting star garnered over 10% voteshare but did not manage to grab an MP seat.
Come 2011 and Vijaykanth was a man much in demand. Turning his ire on the then ruling DMK, Vijaykanth joined hands with the AIADMK and went on to a thumping victory in the Assembly polls. His party usurped the Opposition’s role with 29 seats, shoving the DMK to third place in terms of number of seats. Relations subsequently soured between himself and Jayalalithaa and Vijaykanth was back to what he did best – lashing out at both Dravidian parties.
2014 saw Vijaykanth sewing up an alliance with the BJP – a move that was seen as a smart one, until the results came. Vijaykanth came a cropper, the biggest loser as far as voteshare was concerned. Pulling in barely 5% voteshare in the alliance, Vijaykanth stood fourth in the state, with the BJP inching ahead of him in terms of both voteshare as well as number of seats.
Total Vote Percetage
All political parties in Tamil Nadu, except the AIADMK, now want Vijaykanth. “All parties are after him now,” said C Lakshmanan, Associate Professor with the Madras Institute of Development Studies. “There is no doubt that he is a deciding factor. But his getting back that 10% voteshare will depend on which side he goes to,” he added.
Vijaykanth has so far met with the People’s Welfare Front, a motley group of small parties including Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the two Left parties and Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). DMK chief M Karunanidhi has issued an open invitation to Vijaykanth to join the DMK for 2016. The BJP too insists that Vijaykanth is still part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), despite Vijaykanth himself refuting it. But political analysts feel that the king-maker image being hung on Vijaykanth is not much more than hype.
“Captain, like Vaiko, has already missed the bus as things stand,” said N Sathiyamoorthy, Director of the Observer Research Foundation in Chennai. “As for his bargaining power, I do not think he can win or lose elections for anyone,” he said.
Sathiyamoorthy feels that the DMK chief’s recent invitation to the Congress to join their alliance is almost an ultimatum to Vijaykanth. “DMK’s offer to the Congress may include the Congress and GK Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress,” he said. “This move may be a caution as well as an invitation to Vijaykanth to join the DMK alliance. Karunanidhi is, in effect, telling him to come with realistic demands or we will go ahead.”
Other analysts agree that Vijaykanth has lost his original bargaining chip which won him dividends in the 2011 state polls. “I think Vijaykanth’s appeal and voteshare has reduced drastically,” said GC Shekhar, senior journalist. “Everyone is overrating his voteshare. I think he will be equal to MDMK now in terms of voteshare. Vijaykanth’s performance has been listless, his public announcements and posturing, beating up party cadre, his impulsive behaviour – all of this will ensure that his voteshare will further erode. He can only recover lost ground by projecting Premalatha as the leader of the party,” he said.
Sources within the DMK say that their own surveys have pegged Vijaykanth with not more than a 6% voteshare currently in the state. “The DMK is not desperate for him since with Congress we have around 30-35% voteshare already,” said the source who did not wish to be named. “But if Vijaykanth comes onboard, it is a winning combination for us, along with Congress. It will seal the win,” he said.
Analysts feel that the reason Vijaykanth is in demand by other parties is due to the lack of leadership, a “face” for the Chief Minister’s candidature. “The BJP needs a good face for Chief Ministerial candidate,” said N Sathiyamoorthy of ORF. “As for the People’s Welfare Front, Vaiko is not wanted by either the DMK or the AIADMK. So Vaiko needs Vijaykanth. They may promise him Chief Ministership but they all know it will not happen,” he said.
The BJP too has backed down on its terms, hoping to woo Captain back into the NDA fold. “The BJP does not say that we should indispensably hold the Chief Minister’s post,” stated Muralidhar Rao, National General Secretary and state in-charge of the BJP, last week. “We are flexible,” he added.
Until the elections arrive though, all political ploys are not more than educated guesses. It is Vijaykanth’s time in the sun now as he gets wooed by almost all major political parties for 2016. Whether Captain can capitalise on it and steer back a sinking ship to health, will depend largely on the choices he makes in the coming months.