Opinion: Will Vijay, AKA "Beast", Slay Dravidian Parties In Tamil Nadu?

In his superhit Tamil film Beast, actor Vijay pronounced dramatically: "I am not a politician. I am a soldier." Fans went into raptures in theatres across Tamil Nadu.

After years of teasing a political debut through his cult movie lines, Vijay has finally done it. He has launched his political party and named it Tamizhaga Vetri Kazhagam, which translates to Victorious Tamil Nadu Party.

Vijay, or Thalapathy (commander) to his fans, is walking a well-trodden path in the state - starring in films, then diving into politics to leverage the stardom and hoping to turn fans into voters. The list is long, from former Chief Ministers MG Ramachandran (MGR) and J Jayalalithaa to Captain Vijaykanth, Khushbu, Kamal Haasan and even Udhayanidhi Stalin.

With luck, Vijay can count on his fandom and, if he plays his cards right, could even play kingmaker in the not-too-distant future.

Now let's take a cold, hard look at Vijay's prospects. Vijay attempted a soft political launch in 2021, when his Vijay Makkal Iyakkam (his fan club) put up candidates in parts of the state for rural local body elections. It was apparent that the actor intended to tread cautiously, take baby steps.

Vijay's candidates, who contested the polls as Independents and campaigned with their leader's grinning face on flags, managed an impressive score - 129 of the 169 candidates who contested various posts won. In 2022, about 10 more candidates won in urban local body polls. All this, without Vijay even campaigning.

At the time, Vijay's campaign leader Bussy Anand had told this journalist that their candidates had enjoyed an enthusiastic response while campaigning. Anand, however, admitted that it had been an uphill task to teach young aspirants the basics of grooming and public etiquette. He had the onerous task of getting Vijay's raucous fans to get haircuts and temper their behaviour in public. This demonstrates how Vijay is harnessing the raw power of gen next voters in the state - those whose traditional loyalties do not lie either with the DMK or the AIADMK.

That is perhaps why the party's name appears to be a conscious and conspicuous shift from the term "Dravida" present in both the DMK and the AIADMK. New politics for a new generation, perhaps.

His pledge that the party will eschew corruption is an unsubtle swipe at the two main parties that command close to 71% of the total vote share in the state (as of 2021) and have been in power alternatively since 1967.

That he also claims to shun politics of religion, caste and creed, is a clear dig at the BJP, which has seized the battle of narratives in recent years in the state. The BJP's vote share has climbed only marginally by 2.62% in partnership with the AIADMK.

Vijay's Tamizhaga Vetri Kazhagam aims to establish a presence among young voters and those seeking an alternative to the Dravidian behemoths. It will be a showdown between Seeman's Naam Tamilar Katchi (6.58% voteshare), Ramadoss' Pattali Makkal Katchi (3.8%), Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam (2.62%), TTV Dhinakaran's Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (2.35%) - and of course the BJP.

Voters from minority communities, looking for an alternative, might find Vijay's party an attractive bet. Political watchers may remember the "Joseph Vijay" controversy when the actor had taunted the BJP's H Raja before the release of his film Mersal.

Vijay may have taken a leaf out of late actor-politician Vijaykanth's book by converting his fan clubs into a political party. But he has certainly been more cautious and has paced himself. He has made it clear that he is focused on the 2026 Tamil Nadu election. He has also declared that his party will neither contest the 2024 Lok Sabha election, nor support any party.

Which way Vijay's political fortunes swing will depend, of course, on how the actor positions himself as a politician, whether he is approachable or aloof, or whether the people of Tamil Nadu are still willing to give yet another star-turned-politician a chance.

(Sandhya Ravishankar is a journalist)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.