If Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal has been the fastest Indian leader to rise to political import then Tamil Nadu’s actor-turned politician Vijayakanth is no less. Within a year of launching his DMDK, he fielded candidates in all the constituencies in the 2006 assembly elections. He polled more votes than the Congress, which once ruled the state, and the PMK, a party with considerable caste support.
Vijayakanth’s 8.4 per cent vote share in a multi-cornered fight in 2006 was a revelation. However, he remained where he started even after a decade, while Kejriwal trumped giant rivals and captured power in no time.
Tamil Nadu is certainly not Delhi, and it’s certainly hard to expand one’s elbow room in a state that’s brutally dominated by the Dravidian parties; but what perpetually sets him behind is his total lack of strategy or what we can call pointless politics. The only time that he appeared to have played it right was in 2011 assembly elections when his party allied with the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and garnered more seats than even the DMK to become the main opposition. However, his relationship with Jayalalithaa soured within a year and his presence in the assembly disintegrated when a number of his MLAs jumped ship. Moreover, his vote-share nosedived to just above five per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections (in which he allied with the BJP).
The vote share swings between 2006 and 2014 are no big deal because they also depended on the number of seats DMDK contested, but what’s disappointing is that despite a spectacular debut in 2006, he hasn’t been able to move an inch.
His latest announcement to go it alone in the upcoming assembly elections also stems from a non-existent or defective strategy. There are multiple analyses circulating in the state. While some say he is only posturing and that he will finally ally with either the DMK or the BJP-led fronts, others say he will do what he originally planned. Some even speculate that he is playing solo at the instance of BJP to help the AIADMK.
If he is indeed posturing to strengthen his bargaining capacity with the DMK, it’s understandable because the latter is desperate to get him. With the Congress already on its side, the DMK’s fortunes could multiply with help from the DMDK and hence Vijayakanth bargaining hard is not unusual. But is he really bargaining? If yes, for what? Even Karunanidhi, who was so certain that the alliance would fructify, doesn’t say a thing. What’s it that Vijayakanth is waiting for? Share of power, more seats, or something else?
On the other hand, his staying away from the DMK to help AIADMK is a bizarre proposition because life hasn’t been easy for him ever since he parted with the latter. Within a year of their fighting the elections together, Jayalalithaa had openly slighted him. In 2012 she said that she had never wanted an alliance with his party, but agreed only to satisfy her party workers. She termed Vijayakanth’s behaviour in the assembly “disgusting and crude” and said that it was an example of what happens when undeserving people get high positions. In addition, her government filed several defamation cases against him that made court-visits a regular headache for him. On his part, Vijaykanth has been equally hostile and has in fact been more vituperative than bigger stakeholders such as Karunanidhi and Stalin in his attacks on Jaya.
Will he have a secret deal with such a rival? This is a bit of a stretch even going by the maxim that there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, which Jaya often quoted in the past.
If he is indeed going to be fighting it alone, either on principle or to help the AIADMK, what exactly does Vijayakanth want in politics? He can’t be attempting to prove his political mettle for ever because he has already done it multiple times and both the analysts and political parties know what he’s capable of.
This is where a lack of strategy is evident. On the other hand, if playing politics like this is indeed his strategy, his game is certainly not power, but something else. Perhaps it’s too early to speculate on this, as some analysts do, because it’s still early days. In Tamil Nadu politics, the pieces of the jigsaw often fall into place at the last minute.
Ultimately, if he goes it alone indeed, it will certainly be a curious case of aimless realpolitik.