There was the usual slur to his speech. But a massive crowd of his followers, assembled in Kanchipuram on 20 February, clearly understood what the actor turned politician Vijayakanth, popularly known as Captain, said. “Do you want me to be the king or the kingmaker?” he thundered. “The king!” the crowd roared back. He commanded them to repeat the words, and they did, again and again. “So be it,” Vijayakanth said, before thanking them and leaving the podium.
That was all the indication he gave of his course of action in the upcoming assembly election—which had been a matter of frenzied speculation in political circles and the media. For nearly five decades, political control of Tamil Nadu has oscillated between two major outfits—the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK, now led by M Karunanidhi, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK, now led by Jayalalithaa. Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, or DMDK, which emerged as the second-largest outfit in the 2011 assembly election, is too new and unsteady to be seen as a long-term rival to these parties. But if it is able to command the kind of vote share it has drawn in some past elections, it will play a vital role in influencing the outcome of the assembly election this May.
For a more precise statement on Vijayakanth’s plan, his followers had to wait till 10 March, when the party organised a women’s rally in Chennai to celebrate International Women’s Day. Vijayakanth’s wife, Premalatha, spoke first. Premalatha, who co-founded the party, has been a constant presence through Vijayakanth’s political career, often speaking at his rallies and representing him in the media. During the speech, she attacked both the DMK and the AIADMK, calling the former a “thillumullu katchi,” or fraud party, and the latter an “anaiththilum thillumullu katchi,” or a fraud-in-everything party. After her, Vijayakanth took the stage, and assured his audience that he did not need any advice on what alliance to strike. Then, he declared that the DMDK would contest the next elections alone.
With this, Vijayakanth doused the hopes of many political formations that had been hoping to ally with the DMDK. The party had been wooed by multiple groups: the DMK, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the People’s Welfare Front, or PWF, coalition. The union minister Prakash Javadekar had conducted talks with him, and said at the end of February that an alliance between the BJP and the DMDK was likely, and that the BJP would support Vijayakanth as a chief ministerial candidate. The DMK, too, had courted the party through February, before announcing that the two were close to arriving at a pact. Karunanidhi had told reporters in early March that he was confident of an alliance taking shape. All the speculation had lent the DMDK and its leader an aura of great importance.
To the AIADMK, Vijayakanth’s announcement that his party would contest alone was welcome news. The DMK’s vote share has fallen significantly behind the AIADMK in recent years, but the state’s history of alternating between the two would not have allowed the latter to be entirely at ease. The DMK’s chances of victory would improve significantly were it to contest in a partnership with the DMDK. At the news that the talks had fallen through, the AIADMK cadre fired crackers in jubilation at the party’s headquarters.