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Vijay's Political Entry: Can 'Thalapathy' Make an Impact on Tamil Nadu Politics?

On 2 February, actor Vijay launched his new political outfit, Tamilaga Vettri Kazhagam.

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The already crowded political space in Tamil Nadu just got even more crowded with the entry of Tamil movie star Vijay into the arena. Popularly called 'Thalapathy' or young leader by his fans, Vijay is one of the biggest stars of Kollywood – as the Tamil tinsel world is called – and commands a huge following, especially among the youth of the state.

Vijay's political entry had been in the works for the last couple of years but there was always the element of doubt of whether he would do a 'Rajinikanth', a reference to the superstar who kept people guessing about his political entry for over two decades before announcing he would not be entering politics.

Vijay has been active in social work through his 'Vijay Makkal Iyakkam' or Vijay Peoples Movement, an extended organisation of his fan clubs working on service projects across the state. When he started to organise them in a manner more relevant to electoral politics by appointing booth agents a few months ago, there was a hint that perhaps, he would be launching a political outfit.

On 2 February came the formal announcement that the party was being registered with the Election Commission of India and christened 'Tamilaga Vettri Kazhagam' or Tamil Nadu Victory Party.
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What Is TVK's Ideology?

No one knows for sure what Vijay's political ideology is. His movie dialogues have hinted at him being against corruption, caste inequalities, and as a man who is on the side of the weak and oppressed. But then, that is the image all heroes in Tamil cinema seek to build. So, no one really knows what he plans to put forth as his policies and programmes.

His note announcing the launch of the party gave very few hints. It merely talked about how politics was not in a good place at present and that it needed to be rid of corruption and inequities. That tells us very little about where he stands on key issues.

What is known is that the office bearers of the party at the moment, including its spokespersons, are political unknowns drawn almost entirely from his fans association. How they will deal with the rough and tumble of politics in Tamil Nadu is yet to be seen.

Political parties in the state, meanwhile, have taken a cautious approach to the news of Vijay's entry. Most of their statements have been neutral with the exception of the BJP, which has extended a warm welcome.

"I welcome Mr Vijay's entry into politics. I wish him best of luck," BJP Tamil Nadu's vice-president Narayanan Thirupathy told the media on 2 February.

This has set off speculation on whether Vijay is potentially a Trojan horse for the party who could help split the Dravidian parties' vote bank in the state, making it easier for the BJP, which has been struggling to make an impact in Tamil Nadu. There is as yet no evidence to suggest that he may be propped up by the saffron party.
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In the past, Vijay has had a difficult relationship with the BJP, with local BJP leaders attacking him for his lines in a movie critical of the Union government's policies and schemes. But the BJP seems to have put that behind them now.

On the other hand, Vijay's father, film director SA Chandrasekar, was once closely associated with the first family of the DMK, describing former Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi as akin to an elder brother.

At one point of time, it was thought that Vijay would be supportive of the DMK but the relationship has often been strained, in part due to his perceived tension with the DMK's heir apparent Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of Chief Minister MK Stalin, who is believed to control a film distribution company that has an almost total stranglehold over film distribution in Tamil Nadu.

It is speculated that there was pressure on Vijay to hand over distribution of his films to this company, something the star did not take well.

Over the years, Vijay has had little in common with the AIADMK or its leadership.

How Much of the Vote Will Vijay Get?

Politics in Tamil Nadu is also an expensive business with voters often demanding to be paid for their vote. An Assembly by-election in Erode last year is believed to have seen over Rs 100 crore having been spent, a sizable part of it on purchasing votes.

Vijay made a fervent appeal at one of his events a few months ago asking people not to take money for votes. But it isn't that simple as political parties across the spectrum vie with each other in offering inducements to the voters.

There are still over two years to go before Vijay makes his electoral debut. A lot of how much vote share his TVK would get or which of the existing parties it would hurt will be known by his actions over the next two years. While it is in one sense a good move to give himself time to prepare his organisation before taking the electoral plunge, it also gives his opponents time to fine-tune their strategies to take him on.
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Over the last two decades, movie stars have struggled to make an impact in Tamil Nadu. Kamal Haasan, Sarath Kumar, Vijayakanth, Karthik – the list of heroes who tried their luck in the political space on their own is long. With the exception of Vijayakanth, who had limited success, the others have made very little headway.

And Rajinikanth, perhaps seeing the plight of some of the others, pulled out even before taking the plunge. In that sense, being a star is no longer a guarantee for success in politics in Tamil Nadu. Indeed, it never was.

Even MGR and Jayalalithaa spent over a decade in politics as part of established political parties before they succeeded on their own steam. Vijay is relatively young by Indian political standards, has a large fan following, and wants to change the system.

The odds against him succeeding are extremely high. Tamil Nadu is waiting to see if he does better than so many of his illustrious predecessors from the movie world.

(Sumanth C Raman is a television anchor and political analyst. He tweets @sumanthraman. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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