Wednesday, 26 January, 2022
HomePoliticsHow actor Vijay scored a blockbuster poll debut without even contesting elections

How actor Vijay scored a blockbuster poll debut without even contesting elections

Actor Vijay’s fan club contested & made inroads in Tamil Nadu's rural local body elections this month, but mainstream parties & analysts believe it is too soon to take it seriously.

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New Delhi: Tamil superstar Vijay, 47, fondly called Thalapathy (young commander) by his legions of fans, made his foray into politics rather successfully without campaigning or contesting elections. 

In the Tamil Nadu rural local body elections last week, his fan club — All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam — recorded a 68 per cent strike rate, winning 115 of the 169 seats it contested. 

While the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) swept the polls, in which over 27,000 seats were up for grabs, Vijay’s fan club, marking its political debut, did better than actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, actor Vijaykant’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) — all established parties in the state. 

This was the first time the actor gave consent to office-bearers of his fan club to contest elections in his name.  

In early September, Vijay had moved court against 11 people, including his parents and members of his fan club, for using his name and photographs during elections. In November last year, the actor even issued a statement when his father registered the ‘All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam’ with the Election Commission of India as a political party. “I inform my fans and the public that there is no relation whatsoever between the political party that my father has started and me, directly or indirectly,” he had said then. 

In less than a year, the actor agreed to elections being contested in his name under the same party name and even set two main criteria for candidate selection — “educated youth” and “equal representation to women”.

Bussy Anand, general secretary of the Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, told ThePrint that the results were not unexpected as the party had earned a lot of goodwill in Thalapathy’s name, especially during the Covid lockdown. 

Detailing the list of work done, Anand said, that during the pandemic, in 10 districts, including Salem, Thanjavur, Chennai, Tiruvallur, and Trichy, the fan club gave free breakfast and rations to people, provided them with sanitisers and medicines, and even arranged oxygen for those in need. 

“All of this was done in Thalapathy’s name. All of the cadres worked very well,” he said. “The Vijay Makkal Iyakkam has been around for the past 27 years and for close to 20-22 years we have been giving free saris, dhotis etc in Vijay’s name.” 

Anand said all members of the fan club went door to door and campaigned in Thalapathy’s name and used his photo as well as a flag with his name and image. 

The party’s Kancheepuram unit head, E.C.R. Saravanan, said the actor’s popularity helped in the polls. “Vijay’s popularity and him being a man who works and fights for the rights of the downtrodden is what worked in our favour,” he said.

Vijay, a film icon in Tamil cinema, is an actor, playback singer and philanthropist who started out as a child actor. 

Extremely popular among the youth, in 2014, he was the most Googled Tamil actor, overtaking Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Last year, a selfie he reposted had the record of being the most retweeted photo of the year in India.

He has played the lead in over 60 movies, achieving much success commercially in India and overseas.

His fan club of over 10 lakh members campaigned in his name. While he hasn’t officially contested elections, the actor had extended support for victims of alleged police excesses in the anti-Sterlite agitation and protests against the NEET. 

Although Anand was very guarded about Vijay himself joining politics and contesting elections, saying it is something for the actor to decide, the local units of the superstar’s fan club say they will convince him to join politics, adding that it is the natural course of events. 

Also read: DMK reasserting itself or still ‘anti-Hindu’? Tamil Nadu temple reforms spark political question

Mainstream parties, analysts not too impressed

Many, however, are not too impressed with the fan club’s success. Mainstream political parties believe the All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam is not one to be taken too seriously and only something smaller parties should watch out for. 

The ruling DMK said it does not attach too much importance to the results of Vijay’s fan club. 

Speaking to ThePrint, DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan said the story was not about the votes won by Vijay’s fan club but how the DMK had swept the local body polls and “set a new benchmark under the leadership of (Chief Minister) M.K. Stalin”.

“We don’t take their results and votes received that seriously. This is something for smaller parties such as Kamal Haasan’s or the PMK or AMMK to take notice of. The DMK does not attach too much importance to the results of the All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam,” Sarvanan said.

Analysts say that the fan club has a long way to go, and that Vijay is trying to have his cake and eat it too. 

Ramu Manivannan, Professor and Head of Department of Politics & Public Administration at the University of Madras, said the fan club’s results were not about the party but more about the personality. 

“Saying it’s a fan club is not sufficient political ground. If you say it is your party, then people can openly challenge you. All of this is a double standard,” Manivannan said. “Vijay has shown interest for a while but politics demands sacrifices. Currently, he wants to be in politics without making sacrifices. He wants to have his cake and eat it too.”  

He said the fan club contesting elections in Vijay’s name was a way of increasing his market value and catching the public space and imagination. “Currently, he is only confusing the voters,” he said. 

Muthukumar, head of department of Political Science at Presidency College in Chennai, said the fan club did well mainly due to youngsters, adding that they did not have a proper grassroots structure like established parties such as the DMK and the AIADMK in the state.

“Youngsters like either Vijay or Ajith but Ajith is nowhere in politics currently.” Speaking about Vijay’s other counterparts who entered the political fray, such as Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, Muthukumar said, in both cases, a grassroots presence was missing.

Drawing a comparison with MGR and Jayalalithaa, he said the two former CMs of Tamil Nadu had an immensely strong grassroots presence, which was a defining factor in their electoral successes.

“MGR had that charisma and, through his films, songs and the kind of movies he chose formed a connection with the public politically. Vijay is trying to do the same but one has to wait and see if he will be successful; if he decides to officially join politics,” Muthukumar said. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Why Stalin consoling OPS over his wife’s demise has sparked hope of civil political culture in TN


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