Vijayakant: DMDK founder, actor, philanthropist, who briefly altered TN’s bipolar political landscape

Vijayakant, after MGR, is the only film actor who could achieve a measure of success in politics.

December 28, 2023 09:33 am | Updated 02:47 pm IST - CHENNAI

DMDK president Vijayakant during his election campaign at Sikkandar Chavadi in Madurai. File

DMDK president Vijayakant during his election campaign at Sikkandar Chavadi in Madurai. File | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

Vijayakant, Tamil actor turned founder of Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK), whose refreshing electoral success briefly altered the bipolar political landscape in Tamil Nadu in the first decade of this millennium, died at a private hospital in Chennai on Thursday. He was 71 and is survived by his wife Premalatha and two sons.

Also Read: DMDK founder Vijayakant’s death LIVE updates

Vijayakant had on Thursday, December 28, 2023, tested positive for COVID-19 and encountered respiratory problems following which he was rushed to the MIOT Hospital and put on ventilator support. His health has been on the decline for years now, and these setbacks were reflected in his presence in public events, where he had to be propped up or held up by others, and assisted with basic functions. Premalatha, who was DMDK’s treasurer, was recently made the party’s general secretary.

Challenged Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa

Vijayakant, after M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), is the only actor who could achieve a measure of success in politics. Even though M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa also had a veritable film career, they had inherited a party left behind by their mentors C.N. Annadurai and MGR respectively. Unlike his contemporaries Kamal Haasan and Rajinikant, who wavered, Vijayakant took a political plunge once he decided and launched DMDK and rattled stalwarts Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa by emerging as a third force in 2006. His emergence saw Karunanidhi leading a minority government with the support of allies between 2006 and 2011

Also Read: Vijayakant to be cremated with state honours: T.N. CM Stalin

He burst into the political scene in 2006 polling an impressive 8.38% vote share as an independent player taking on the alliances led by the mighty DMK and AIADMK in the Assembly elections. The vote share increased to over 10% in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Women and youth looking for a change and his fans had constituted his popular support base. However, in just a decade he went politically astray and was reduced to a miserable position heading a party commanding just less than one per cent vote share.

A top Kollywood actor

Born Vijayaraj in Madurai, the dark skinned and well-built young man, became popular initially as Vijayakant, a screen name given by M.A. Kaja, the director of his first film Inikkum llamai, as around the same time there were two other emerging actors with similar sounding names. In the 1980s and 1990s he was among the top five heroes of Kollywood, carving out a unique space for himself in an era dominated by Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. He came to be affectionately called ‘Captain’ following his stellar portrayal of the title role in the superhit film Captain Prabakaran loosely based on the life of dreaded forest brigand Veerappan.

Vijayakant was last seen in the 2010 Tamil movie Virudhagiri. Interestingly, he contested from Virudhachalam constituency where the presiding deity is Viruthagireeswarar.

Left to fend for himself by his rice mill-owning father, who was upset over his decision to come to Madras than to take care of the family business in Madurai, Vijayakant lived a hand-to-mouth existence for a few years in the city before he made it big in Kollywood. This eventually inspired the self-professed fan of another philanthropist star-politician MGR, to make generous donations for noble causes, during calamities and also periodically distribute material aid to the needy.

Leader of the Opposition

In 2011, he tied up with the AIADMK and emerged as the second largest party in the Assembly, pushing the DMK to the third sport. Vijayakant, with 29 MLAs, became the Leader of Opposition.

With veteran Panruti S. Ramachandram serving as his deputy in the House, the DMDK performed exceedingly well till a difference of opinion between him and Jayalalithaa, who was then Chief Minister, burst out into an open confrontation in the Assembly. With his fingers pointed at the AIADMK members, he provoked the ruling party and Jayalalithaa. Jayalalithaa was equally aggressive in her response, challenging him to contest an election alone to prove his party’s strength. The DMDK, she said, could not have won seats without an alliance with the AIADMK and predicted that the downfall of the DMDK had begun.

Vijayakant, contrary to the popular belief that he would go with the DMK in the subsequent elections, went alone and led a third front in the 2014 parliamentary election, pushing the DMK to the third place in quite a few constituencies. He then experimented with the Left parties, Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) and MDMK led by Vaiko, TMC and formed the People Welfare Front. The alliance, with him as the Chief Ministerial candidate, drew a blank.

Deterioration of health

By then his health deteriorated, leading to Ms. Premalatha and son Prabahkaran taking control of the party organisation. Even when he was dominating the political scene and had the control over the organisation, Jayalalithaa succeeded in ensuring defection of his party MLAs including Ma Foi K. Pandiarajan, who later become a Minister in her Cabinet in 2016. Subsequently, most of the MLAs of the DMDK either joined the AIADMK or the DMK.

Vijayakant is probably, the only actor after MGR and Jayalalithaa who showed a lot of promise in politics and even earned the title ‘Puratchi Kalaignar’. “Though his fans and followers called him as ‘Karuppu’ MGR (Black MGR), Vijayakant did not relish the title. He was conferred the title ‘Puratchi Kalaignar’ by Karunanidhi, with whom he maintained a good rapport and even considered as his mentor,” said film journalist Cheyyaru Balu.

He organised a mega rally of film personalities to honour Karunanidhi on behalf of the South Indian Film Artistes Association and presented him a golden pen at a meeting on the sands of the Marina.

But he could not forgive the DMK because a major portion of his marriage hall in Chennai, Andal Alagar Thirumana Mandapam, which also served as the headquarters of the DMDK, was demolished during the DMK regime for the construction of a flyover near Koyambedu. It is said to be one of the reasons that prevented the coming together of the DMDK and the DMK.

In 2011 after winning the elections, he said his party was ready to make any sacrifice to ensure that the outgoing Chief Minister Karunanidhi did not return to power.

Over the past few years, he remained confined to his house and made multiple visits of hospitals inside the country and abroad for treatment of various ailments.

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