A young woman is holding a poster that has a message for the AIADMK: “This is the house of a Vijay fan, AIADMK people need not come here seeking votes.” The image went viral on social media last week, resonating with several Vijay fans who have now announced that they will follow suit. The woman, identified as S Jagadeeshwari, is also the women’s wing leader of Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam in Virudhunagar district.
Jagedeeshwari says her decision to display the poster snubbing AIADMK is an outcome of the ruling party’s reaction to Vijay’s film Sarkar. “I have absolutely no other intention, in fact till Jayalalithaa was alive, I had voted for the AIADMK,” Jagadeeshwari tells TNM. But when she spent Rs 70,000 and put up banners for Sarkar, they were torn down within two days by AIADMK cadres.
“Officially, it has been decided that our flags and name cannot be used for any party’s campaign,” says ECR Saravanan, district office bearer of Kanchipuram Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, “We have no official position for this election. The fans have been told to vote as per their conscience.”
But he admits that the fans are angry with AIADMK and the BJP. “I don’t think anybody will vote for them,” he says. Jagadeeshwari agrees, “We have been advised to follow our conscience, I am doing just that.”
BJP and AIADMK’s tiff with Vijay fans
Vijay is no doubt a hugely successful star in Tamil films. The ruling parties at the Centre and the state alienated Vijay fans after the release of his last two films, Mersal and Sarkar. And now that the BJP and AIADMK are in alliance, Vijay fans seem to have decided to hit out at both of them.
The BJP was miffed with certain dialogues in Mersal; in the film’s climax, Vijay delivers a dialogue that has references to GST and demonetisation, and the BJP couldn’t take it. Leaders like H Raja decided to communalise the issue by claiming “religious” motives to Vijay’s anti-BJP stand, suddenly realising that the actor is a Christian. H Raja is currently a contestant in Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency.
Sarkar, meanwhile, offended the AIADMK. The party particularly saw red on a sequence where voters are seen throwing away freebies. Several AIADMK cadres tore Sarkar posters, leading to some tense moments between them and Vijay fans.
“Anna (Vijay) never wanted us to spend money – it is out of our own interest and for our own happiness that we do it,” Jagadeeshwari says, “To see them torn down in less than two days was heartbreaking.”
And therefore, while Vijay or his fan clubs have not taken any official position to support any party this election, unofficially, many Vijay fans seem to be supporting rivals DMK. In constituencies like Arakkonam and Madurai, Vijay fans have reportedly expressed support for the DMK-front candidates, though not in their official capacity.
Rajini’s 50-50 success rate
This is not the first time that fans of an actor have used elections to get back at a political opponent. But while actors’ voices have worked to impact elections at times, they have failed at other times.
For instance, Rajini’s famous ‘voice’ against the 1991-96 rule of Jayalalithaa was one of the factors that contributed to her routing in the 1996 polls.
In 2004 however, upset about PMK’s criticism of Rajinikanth for glorifying smoking on screen in a film that had released two years earlier, his fans associations vowed to defeat PMK in all the constituencies it contested. But PMK won all the five seats it had contested, busting the myth of the ‘Rajini voice’. Perhaps the electorate saw the decision to fight against PMK as more personal, unlike in 1996, when Tamil Nadu was collectively frustrated with the AIADMK regime and in Rajinikanth’s voice saw a pointed articulation of that despair.
How MGR turned his fan base into his political base
In the case of MGR, while his fans were constantly up in arms against then-DMK chief M Karunanidhi, the actor always kept his fans at bay, says Idhayakkani Vijayan – editor of the magazine called Idhayakkani on MGR. “He never allowed any confrontation to take a final shape,” he says.
When Karunanidhi tried to prop up his son MK Muthu as a hero to counter the rising popularity of MGR, who was then still with the DMK, the people chose their star at a public meeting, Vijayan recalls. “In 1972, MK Muthu attended a DMK conference in Madurai in which MGR was also a speaker. After MGR’s speech, the crowd disbursed,” he says.
MGR was expelled from the DMK in 1972; between then, when the AIADMK was launched, and 1977, when MGR was elected the Chief Minister, he acted in scores of movies. And most of them were aimed at consolidating his already well-established political base.
Sample the titles of some of these films: Annamitta Kai (The hand that feeds); Urimai Kural (The voice of rights); Ninaithathai Mudippavan (The one who accomplishes whatever he thinks of); Oorukku Uzhaippavan (The one who works for the town); and Meenava Nanban (The friend of the fisherman). Vijayan recalls how many films ran into trouble because of opposition from the DMK, “But several films like Ulagam Suttrum Vaaliban went on to become the biggest of hits.”
Will Vijay take the plunge?
Will Vijay’s fan base bring about any change this election, considering he has left his stand ambiguous?
Jagadeeshwari says the idea is to not hurt the prospects of the AIADMK-BJP front. “Not that we cannot, but that is not our intention this election,” she says, “We are just retaliating. We still feel pained by what happened, and we have used this opportunity to express it.”
Given Vijay’s fan base though, if he had taken an official stand, it most likely would have hit the electoral prospects of the AIADMK-BJP combine.
“First time voters are crucial this time,” says writer Stalin Rajangam, “But since Vijay has not made any announcement, we cannot be sure if this will have any impact. For now, the opposition to AIADMK and BJP seems organic. If there is to be an impact, the movement definitely needs some validation from the actor himself.”
Writer and activist Aazhi Senthilnathan says this election non-stand could be part of a larger game plan. “Vijay has been hinting on and off about entering politics. His films carry strong political messages. If he is still silent about his fans opposing and campaigning against AIADMK and BJP after taking an official position to not support or oppose any party, it certainly points to a larger game plan. But whether he will finally be willing to take the risk is a moot question.”
Kavitha Muralidharan is a journalist with two decades of experience, writing on politics, culture, literature and cinema. Views expressed are the author's own.