Lok Sabha 2024: Anna To Thalapathi; Tamil Nadu's Star Path To Power

Lok Sabha 2024: Anna To Thalapathi; Tamil Nadu's Star Path To Power

With the 2024 General Elections round the corner, it is perhaps interesting to look at this ‘jugalbandi’ or some other ways, the synergy of expression and platform, being taken to another level, when art enters politics.

Juviraj AnchilUpdated: Wednesday, May 08, 2024, 01:12 PM IST
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Xavier Rebello

The realm of politics is an interesting landscape, for it finds a platform for expression and on many occasions is also an avenue where the said platform itself finds a meaning and an expression for it to exist.

With the 2024 general elections round the corner, it is perhaps interesting to look at this ‘jugalbandi’ or some other ways, the synergy of expression and platform, being taken to another level, when art enters politics.

In India, there is perhaps no example more salient than the state of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu, born from the erstwhile state of Madras, in many ways, was and still is, a cultural powerhouse. The fact that the whole of southern film industry, may it be Malayalam, Telugu or Tamil itself functioned out of erstwhile Madras is emblematic of that fact.

The Pioneers

The world of art and entertainment and politics in the quintessential ‘South Indian’ state finds its origin in Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy or simply Periyar. Not an artist himself, the social reformer who fought against unjust Brahminical hegemony, nurtured the Dravidian assertion movement, which brought into the fore Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai or Anna, who founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK. One perhaps would find it difficult to gauge the success of Anna as a politician, because for many he was the benchmark.

Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy/Periyar

Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy/Periyar |

The writer with exquisite oratory skills scaled the pinnacle of state politics, by becoming the first chief minister of Tamil Nadu (after it was rechristened from Madras). The plays that he wrote were embedded with revolutionary ideas of self-respect and Dravidian assertion. 

Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai

Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai |

Annadurai’s success and popularity could perhaps not be entirely elucidated without inferring the record turn out his funeral witnessed, when an estimated 15 million of his followers thronged to bid adieu to their Anna (older/elder brother).

It is from the Anna story that another big name emerges. It is the tale of the legendary performer, Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran or just M.G.R., originally a ‘Malayali’, he captured the imaginations of thamizhagam almost seamlessly. The larger-than-life persona that one saw on the silver-screen, was almost equivalently reflected in his public life as well. 

Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran

Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran |

In no time, he and his new party Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or AIADMK, dominated affairs in the Tamil-speaking state. AIADMK, which itself came into being due to MGR’s differences with another person on the list is a story of another kind. MGR with his trademark white fur headgear and sunglasses, became the first actor to become a chief minister in the country's history, when he assumed the office in 1977.

So dominant was power that he scored a hat-trick of victories in assembly polls in 1980 and 1984 (after 1977). No one force had the temerity to defeat him but fate, as he remained in office until his death in 1987. The nation posthumously awarded him with India’s top most civilian honour, Bharat Ratna.

The Stalwarts

The next stalwart of Tamil politics found a mention in the MGR tale. Muthuvel Karunanidhi or Kalaignar or an artist in Tamil who helmed the DMK affairs with his family after Annadurai had a fallout with MGR, which pressed pause on his impending legacy.

Marked by his longevity, Karunanidhi, who was a venerated poet and subsequently a lyricist conveyed the revolutionary movement of Dravidianism, that was imparted to him by the like of Annadurai, through his writings. 

Muthuvel Karunanidhi

Muthuvel Karunanidhi |

The aforementioned legacy that was stalled by MGR was reborn, after MGR, as he came to power to become the chief minister through the assembly election in 1989. In all he occupied the CM chair for a cumulative five terms. 

It is also interesting time to mention another character, who in this case, not only succeeded MGR, but maintained an intense rivalry with Karunanidhi. Jayaram Jayalalitha or Amma or Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) originally from a Telugu-speaking family acted alongside MGR, and became his close aide and eventual successor.

Jayaram Jayalalitha

Jayaram Jayalalitha |

Jayalalitha’s success as a politician is remarkable not only for her six terms as the chief minister of the state, but also for sheer competence of being able dominate affairs in a male-dominant patriarchal society.

The before mentioned rivalry that the both Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi shared was unironically cinematic. With incidents of jailing the other political rivals to different governmental apparatus and buildings in each other's term, the state had perhaps seen it all. Their rivalry fostered monolithic and unhindered duopoly of AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu politics for the entirety of its existence.

When we try to examine the pattern of behavior of voters in the state during this time of history, the reasoning behind the staunch support that these parties and their star leaders received, we understand a belief in the perceived capability of leader or more importantly 'Heroes' to do just to them and bring about progress in the lives, this in addition to the visible novelty of the phenomenon of their beloved artist asking them for their votes appealed to the populace, furthering reinforcing the core of the movement.

Odd Men Out

Although a name that should have found a mention early on, chronologically, this legendary actor had a rather short-lived political career. Villupuram Chinnaiya Manrayar Ganesamoorthy or simply Sivaji Ganesan’s name and grandeur tantamounts, if not exceeds the influence and impact of MGR. He like many sympahised with Dravidian politics, but later on went on to pledge his support to the Congress party, a rather unlikely move in the context of Tamil Nadu.

Sivaji Ganesan

Sivaji Ganesan | TOI

Although he did not dabble in electoral politics, his support for Congress took him to the upper house of the parliament, the Rajya Sabha. His political career came to an abrupt end, post Indira Gandhi’s assassination, who incidentally brought him to the parliament.

Another important name that subscribed to Dravidian politics, but channeled his ambitions through his own party was Vijayaraj Alagarswami of Vijaykanth or as many called him ‘Captain’. Vijaykanth and his party, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam cut their own niche in Tamil Nadu politics, as he fought his battle against two big sharks (AIADMK and DMK) who shared the vestibule of power.

By aligning with the AIADMK he also became the leader of the opposition in 2011. The captain passed away in 2023. His party however continues to be an alliance with the AIADMK, with no MLAs or MPs to show.

Vijaykanth

Vijaykanth |

After the stalwarts of yesteryear, we look at exploits of the stars of the new millennium. Although Dravidian politics in many continues to be at the centre the expression of what it represents, appears to have undergone some change, this perhaps fall in line with changing times and polity. For, AIADMK and DMK are more than political movements, they are established political parties. This, perhaps has impacted their relative success in game of power. This arguably is also the turning point for 'starstruck politics' as the examples or names that entered the political arena after these big names, failed to emulate the success, that their predecessors managed. Many factors could be at play here. Although Dravidian politics continues to be the mainstay of Tamil polity, the nature of accommodation of the same and the imagery appear to have undergone some changes.

The Stars of Stars

Shivaji Rao Gaikwad or Rajnikanth’s power and influence is unmatched, and in fact cannot be compared to most film stars in India. But his political career or lack of it is telling of how the landscape has undergone a change. His power was displayed when he had a kerfuffle with Jayalalitha, that resulted in a catastrophe for the latter.

The young CM, who came to power in 1991 was obliterated in the next elections after Rajini actively spoke and even campaigned in favour of DMK, and most importantly, against AIADMK. The party (ALADMK) that won 225 of the 234 seats in 1991 was reduced to a paltry 4 seats in 1996.

Rajnikanth

Rajnikanth |

Beyond these flairs of charisma, no active move appears to have been made by Thalaiva.  In the recent past, post the surge and subsequent dominance of the BJP at the centre, like many political dormant (at least on periphery) names, like Mohanlal (who voted for the first time in his life in 2014) in Kerala, Rajnikanth also perhaps saw an opportunity in the wave, after wave of the BJP, particularly, the then leader (of the BJP) and now prime minister, Narendra Modi. Rajnikanth’s foray into politics or at least attempt to do so, however was shift in the conventional ways.

His venture was arguably different and away from the Dravidian norms of Tamil polity. He reportedly emphasised on a more ‘spiritual path’ for his endeavour. There were even speculations, that this outfit of his is tailored to be with BJP’s NDA. In surprising turn of events, this development (of the political party) for ill-health or for other reasons sunk. Post a stint in hospital, the actor put curtains on the movement, what lies in the future, lies in the future.

Kamal Hassan

Kamal Hassan |

Then we come to Rajnikanth’s contemporary, Parthasarathy Srinivasan or Kamal Hassan, adored by his cinematic admirer as ‘Ullakanayakan’ (the Actor of the World/Global Actor). Hassan was known for having left leaning ideas and ideology by many. He unlike Rajnikanth, took the proper political plunge. He incepted his party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, once again, without a direct Dravidian invocation.

The prospects of MNM however, were a lot like his party symbol, a flashlight or torch, when broken, flickering with no direction. Similarly after the initial euphoria his party failed to light up, as his major electoral test in 2021 (Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections) resulted in the actor and his party drawing a grand total of absolutely nothing.

As though insult to injury, Hassan couldn't even his own seat in Coimbatore South, which he lost to the BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan, a party that to put it lightly, has little to no presence in Tamil Nadu. Hassan who wanted to be trailblazer by revolting against the existing duopoly of AIADMK and DMK, eventually eat his words and is now supporting the INDIA alliance, and is expected to campaign for them in the upcoming general elections.

Young Blood

As move further by a generation we find names of Udayanidhi Stalin, who is not so much of an actor, as much he is a dynastic politician. He made it to the headlines for his critique caste-oriented practices prevalent in India. Although an MLA from Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni and a minister in his father MK Stalin's cabinet, whether his made his political metal is yet to be decided and therefore determined, and so is his success as a politician.

Udayanidhi Stalin

Udayanidhi Stalin |

Finally we come to the most biggest star of past decade, scoring one box office blockbuster after the other, it is of course Vijay, or Illaya Thalapathi or most importantly as he asserted against the BJP a few years ago, Joseph Vijay Chandrasekhar. Vijay recently (as recently as February 2024) launched his Tamilaga Vettri Kazhagam (TVK) or Tamil Nadu Victory Federation (in English).

Vijay

Vijay |

He known for being vocal in issues that has taken cognizance off, he has, on some occasions even taken on popular narratives of the ruling elites, but whether his political venture will see any ‘victory’ is something only time will tell.

Although, nothing is set in stone, there is perhaps a separation of realities, that the next door Tamilian is practicing, the old on screen charisma that wowed and wooed the public even in real life, is perhaps no longer as captivating as it once was for Kalaingar, MGR, Anna or Amma. The world has perhaps has moved towards addressing the realities and the problems in their realities through the real, rather than the reel.

All the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state of Tamil Nadu will go to polls in the very first of the seven-phased long election on 19 April. Th results for the all the 543 seats, along with Tamil Nadu will counted and declared on 4 June.

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