Chennai: Actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth, who in 2005 launched the Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK) and challenged the bipolar political landscape dominated by veteran leaders M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa, died in Chennai on Wednesday morning. He was 71 and is survived his wife and party general secretary Premalatha and two sons.
Vijayakanth, whose health had suffered a setback over the past few years due to multiple ailments, was rushed to a private hospital early this morning following severe respiratory illness after he tested positive for COVID-19. He breathed his last in the hospital.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his post on X paid rich tribute to the political leader and the actor.
"Deeply saddened by the demise of DMDK founder, Thiru Vijayakanth ji. His contributions to cinema and politics have left an indelible mark on the hearts of millions. My heartfelt condolences to his family and fans during this difficult time," posted Congress MP Rahul Gandhi.
Visuals surfaced of fans reaching and gathering outside the residence of DMDK founder and popular Tamil actor Vijayakanth in Chennai. Vijayakanth passed away at the MIOT International Hospital on Thursday morning.
From actor to politician – The many faces of Vijayakanth
One of the top five heroes of Kollywood from the early 1980s to the early years of this millennium, Vijayakanth surprised everyone by emerging as a strong third political force in Tamil Nadu, which was until then dominated by the DMK and AIADMK. Contesting alone in his debut elections in 2006, his party polled 8.33 per cent reducing the DMK’s strength in the 234-member Assembly below the three-digit mark and forcing Karunanidhi to head a minority government for five years. Vijayakanth was the lone member of his party to enter the Assembly, but in 2009 parliamentary polls the DMDK went on to improve its vote share to over 10%, though it did not win any seats.
His sway over a section of the women and youth and his dedicated fan base rattled not just the two Dravidian parties but also the PMK and others, who feared an erosion in their vote bank. Vijayakanth, known for his philanthropic activities, had managed to wean away voters from across communities and his party had branches all over Tamil Nadu.
In 2011, Jayalalithaa, who was bitterly opposed to him in the initial years upset over reference to him as ‘Black MGR’, wooed him to defeat the DMK that year. Vijayakanth with 29 MLAs became the Leader of Opposition, while the DMK was pushed to the third slot. However, his relations with Jayalalithaa soured within months, and she vowed that she would finish off the DMDK and got many of his MLAs to switch loyalties.
Thereafter, in 2014, the then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, looked up to Vijayakanth to lead a third front in Tamil Nadu in the Lok Sabha polls. The third front won two seats, while the DMK not only drew a blank, but saw its candidates ending behind the runner-ups in several constituencies.
In 2016, while Karunanidhi, desperately wooed Vijayakanth, the DMDK leader chose to head a third front, a decision that proved costly for him. Having come a cropper in the elections and suffered a health setback, Vijayakanth could never bring the DMDK back on track. In his last days, he was heading a party, with a poor vote share of less than one per cent, which is no longer in demand. Very recently, a physically frail and mentally struggling Vijayakanth was brought on the party dais to get his wife Premalatha anointed as its general secretary.
Hailing from Madurai, Vijayakanth, had left his father’s rice mill business, and come to Chennai in the late 1970s with starry dreams. Dark and well-built, he was the unlikely hero. After struggling for a few years, he managed to get a break and entered Tamil cinema, a few years after another dark-skinned actor Rajinikanth had tasted success reversing the need for fair-skinned heroes.
His big break came in Sattam Oru Iruttuarai (Andha Kanoon in Hindi) and he emerged as an angry young hero. He went on to play romantic roles before making it big as an action hero, who would often play cop. His lead role in the film Captain Prabakaran, based on the hunt for forest brigand Veerappan, earned him the moniker ‘Captain’. From then on, his fans and party cadres began addressing him as ‘Captain’.
He also headed the South India Artistes’ Association for many years till he entered politics.
Had Vijayakant not taken politically wrong decisions and remained healthy, he would have emerged as a bankable politician in Tamil Nadu in the post-Jayalalithaa and post-Karunanidhi era.