Has Tamil Actor Vijay Missed A Trick By Choosing Not To Contest The Vikravandi Byelection?

K Balakumar

Jun 18, 2024, 05:39 PM | Updated 05:54 PM IST

Actor Joseph Vijay
Actor Joseph Vijay
  • Vijay, who has already launched his political outfit, looks slightly unsure of his immediate gambit. He could have taken a leaf out of MGR's book and used the byelection to test the waters.
  • The general elections have just gotten over, but there is some political buzz of sorts in Tamil Nadu over another impending poll — the byelection for the Vikravandi Assembly constituency in Villupuram district.

    A byelection in the normal course would not have triggered much interest (usually the ruling dispensation uses all its might and triumphs), especially in the aftermath of a long-drawn general election. But Tamil Nadu will have its assembly election in less than 24 months and a lot is at stake for all major parties in fray in the state.

    The DMK has just decimated its rivals in the general election, sweeping all the 39 MP seats on offer in the state. It is also sure to win the byelection. In a sense, the whole thing seems just an academic exercise. The AIADMK has already ruled itself out of the contest. It said that it was boycotting the byelection as it feared "the ruling DMK will unleash violence and not allow people to vote independently."

    The AIADMK did invoke the infamous 2009 Thirumangalam byelection in which the DMK infamously cemented the cash-for-vote formula that Tamil Nadu has kind of pioneered. It may be recalled that MK Alagiri, son of the late DMK chief, M Karunanidhi, and his team firmed up the practice of using micro-networks of local carriers to slip under the EC’s radar and distribute money to voters. (The NDA, for the record, has announced that its constituent, the PMK, will take the field in Vikravandi, where the byelection is slated for July 10).

    Even though it is facing criticism that it is running away from the contest, the AIADMK's reality is understandable. It has to set its own house in order before it can think of fighting external battles. Edappadi Palaniswamy has his task cut out in the next few months to get his outfit back in the ship-shape. 

    A chance for Vijay to signal intent

    But actor Vijay, who ambitiously floated his political outfit in February this year, Tamilaga Vettri Kazhagam (TVK), has also announced that his party is not throwing its hat in the ring in Vikravandi. At the time of the launch of his political party, Vijay had announced that his party's focus would be the 2026 state assembly election only. So this decision to not take guard at Vikravandi may seem in line with the original announcement.

    But it is also tempting to ask the question of whether he should have used this opportunity to test the waters before the big plunge later. Vijay, after the initial euphoria of coming up with his political party, has gone about his journey rather predictably. He seems unsure as his responses to various events are nothing remarkable. 

    In a sense, Vijay had nothing to lose, and could have treated the Vikravandi contest as a practice run. He could have announced that his party was contesting to make a mark and understand its own strength. That would have sent the right message to both his followers and his rivals.

    Smart leaders always look for opportunities. As Brutus tells Cassius (in order to convince him that it is time to begin the battle against Octavius and Antony), "There is a tide in the affairs of men."

    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries." MGR understood this when he, like Vijay now, had on his hand an untested fledgling political party, the AIADMK, in 1973.

    How MGR upset Indira Gandhi and Karunanidhi’s apple cart  

    MGR had launched his party in October 1972, and in May 1973 a parliamentary byelection was necessitated in Dindigul (the sitting DMK MP Rajangam had passed away). The field was formidable. There was the DMK, which was itching to prove that the actor's newly-floated party was no real force. Then there was Kamaraj's Congress (O), and he was at a stage where a defeat would end his party unit and also his political career. Indira Gandhi's Congress (R) was also in the starting line and she had a few points to prove to those straining at the leash in her party. 

    Amidst such daunting opponents, nobody would have looked askance if MGR had played safe. But the confident leader that he was, he announced that his party would contest the byelection then. Mind you, the party had no symbol and no real infrastructure to fight elections. But he decided valour was the best course for a true warrior.  

    The DMK fielded Pon. Muthuramalingam, who later became Labour and Information Minister in the Karunanidhi Cabinet of 1989-91. Congress (R) put up KR Cheemaichamy, who was earlier in the Swatantra Party. The Congress (O), announced the candidature of NSV Chithan, who later represented Dindigul thrice in the Lok Sabha, while the AIADMK’s choice was K Maya Thevar, a little-heard lawyer practising in Chennai. (that all parties fielded candidates were from the Thevar community — the dominant community in that area — tells that caste was, and is, at the core of electoral politics in TN. But that is a story for a different occasion).

    As the AIADMK was not a recognised party, Maya Thevar was presented with the choice of 16 symbols to pick from and he chose the now-famed two-leaf symbol of the party (which was of course made official later by MGR after the party was recognised).

    MGR and his bunch of enthusiastic followers did find the going tough as the DMK went for broke. It brought in all its ministers to campaign. EVR, who was alive then, had also made clear his backing for the DMK candidate. The DMK let loose a typical bigoted and xenophobic campaign, "Your vote is for a Tamilan or an outsider?" was its poll plank, in an implicit reference to MGR's Malayali origin. 

    Vijay is no MGR, but…  

    But MGR and his merry team soldiered on undeterred and its electioneerings was enterprising. When the results were declared on 21 May 1973, history was created. TN politics was not going to be the same again. Maya Thevar became the first MP and first-ever winner from the AIADMK. The party logged in a staggering 52 per cent of the total votes polled. Congress (O) came second, the DMK ended up third and the Congress (R) in the irrelevant fourth position.

    MGR and AIADMK proved that this victory was not a one-off by registering another smart victory in a later byelection in 1974 in the assembly seat of Coimbatore West. (Araganayakam, who won that, was the first AIADMK MLA in the State Assembly).

    Of course, it is unfair to compare Vijay with MGR, whose political career had much deeper beginnings and was much more planned. But this is not about political acumen, but more about general leadership and the spirit to make the most out of a seeming opportunity.

    Vikravandi, it can be argued, was a chance for Vijay to signal — to use the word that you so often hear in the T20 World Cup — intent. In that sense, he may have let the occasion slip. Like in that famous line of his blockbuster Thuppakki, Vijay is still "waiting"!

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