Tamil Nadu: Political parties stir ‘MGR’ pot ahead of polls next year

Like the previous elections, the ‘MGR successor card’, however, is likely to be the dominant theme in this election as well.

With assembly elections just a few months away, all the political parties in Tamil Nadu are gearing up to attract voters with various schemes and promises. Like the previous elections, the ‘MGR successor card’, however, is likely to be the dominant theme in this election as well.

The AIADMK, under the leadership of J Jayalalithaa, used to cash-in on the popularity of its founder and former chief minister MG Ramachandran. But the new political outfits launched by superstars recently are also trying to appropriate the legacy of Ramachandaran, the charismatic chief minister of the state.

In 2005, when actor Vijayakanth launched his party, the Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), he compared himself with MGR on numerous occasions. His cadres projected him as the ‘’Black MGR’’, which invited criticism from the AIADMK. Now after 15 years, the battle for the MGR legacy has been resurrected with actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan entering politics.

In 2018, while unveiling a statue of MGR at the ACS Medical College and Hospital premises, Rajinikanth had said that he wanted to revive MGR’s rule. Heaping praise on MGR, Rajinikanth said there can never be anyone like him in the next 1,000 years.

“Not everyone can become MGR. MGR is a Yuga Purushan. If someone says he wants to become the next MGR, there cannot be a bigger fool than him. But, I have the faith that I can provide the MGR’s rule that worked for the poor, the downtrodden, and the middle class. With people’s blessings, with the support of youngsters, using the help of technology, resourceful people, and intellectuals, I can provide that rule,” Rajinikanth had said.

During the Lok Sabha election campaign in 2019, Kamal Haasan highlighted various issues like unemployment, corruption, gender inequality and promised to address those issues if his party candidates get elected. There was hardly any reference to former leaders in his campaign. However, this time the actor invoked “MGR”.

During his four-day campaign in several districts, including Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Haasan said he will take forward the dream of MGR in making Madurai the second capital of Tamil Nadu. On another occasion, Haasan said MGR belonged to the people of Tamil Nadu and not just to a party. “MGR was not “DMK Thilagam” when he was at that party, he was not called “ADMK Thilagam” when he floated his own party, he is always “Makkal Thilagam”. People who haven’t seen MGR’s face, remember, I had grown up on his lap,” Haasan said.

Reacting to these comments, the AIADMK came down heavily on Haasan. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami took a jab at the reality show Big Boss (hosted by Kamal Haasan) by saying that if kids and families watch those shows they will get spoiled. He further added that Haasan has done nothing for the welfare of the state and there has not been even one constructive song in his movies to compare him with MGR. “He (Kamal Haasan) doesn’t have individual popularity, and hence he is using the popularity of MGR. Both MGR and Jayalalithaa did not leave behind any heirs, AIADMK and the people of Tamil Nadu are their true heirs. Our party is following the path laid by our great leaders,” Edappadi added.

Namadhu Amma, a mouth-piece of the ruling party, launched a scathing attack on both Haasan and Rajinikanth by alleging that they are using MGR’s popularity for their political benefits.

The party said Rajinikanth, Haasan, and a half of a dozen of people who wish to use MGR’s fame for their political gains, can join the AIADMK as primary members and propagate Puratchi Thalaivar’s ideology. The party further added that using MGR’s fame for political survival is similar to perpetrating a fraud and using the neighbour’s name instead of that of the father,” the party said.

Political analyst Venkatesh said the parties, apart from DMK, are trying to cash in the popularity of MGR. “Even today people remember MGR for his generous nature. So many people had benefited from him and his welfare schemes and to show their loyalty they had always been voting for the party which claims to carry forward his legacy. Vijayakanth projected him as the next MGR. From 2006-11 he made people believe he was the alternative and his vote share was very good before the 2011 assembly elections.

However, after he made the alliance-pact with the AIADMK, said Venkatesh, his vote share reduced because the section of people who believed he is the next MGR voted for his alliance partner AIADMK. “So, in the upcoming elections, be it Rajinikanth, or Kamal Haasan whoever is using the popularity of MGR should always stand as an alternative to have a chance of attracting that loyal MGR vote share, if they make an alliance with other parties, then they will gradually lose their vote share.

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