On March 6, the DMDK, a party formed by actor Vijayakant, was at the receiving end of an embarrassing political blow. Members of the party had met DMK treasurer Duraimurugan in a last minute effort to secure seats in the DMK-led alliance. This, even as DMDK Deputy General secretary LK Sudhish was in talks with Union Minister Piyush Goyal to decide on the party's role in the AIADMK-BJP alliance.
Not only did Duraimurugan turn them away blatantly, but he even went on to berate the DMDK, stating that the party's visit was not worth waking up DMK chief MK Stalin who was having a nap.
LK Sudhish, when questioned, desperately tried his hand at damage control but all he could manage was a feeble denial of Duraimurugan's claims. And just when it seemed like the party would crumble in the media glare, his sister, Premalatha Vijayakant stepped in.
Premalatha the de facto leader?
In 2018, Premalatha was made the treasurer of the DMDK. But with Vijayakant's failing health in public focus, it was only natural that a second rung of leaders would have to emerge to fill the void. But any notions that LK Sudhish would be next line to take on Vijayakant's mantle was dismissed when Premalatha took the microphone on March 8.
"The DMK is clearly trying to take revenge on us and this is a political conspiracy," she lashed out."It is a small miscommunication and the DMK has blown it out proportion. We have always said the DMK stands for 'Thillu Mullu party'," she added.
In Premalatha's aggressive stance and disregard to seniority of the leaders she was addressing, her husband and party founder Vijayakant's political flavour was clearly visible. In 2011, when he entered the assembly, he was termed a ruffian and his anger defined his politics. Ironically, Premalatha stepped into the limelight at this time to soften her husband's stance.
"She came into the picture to give Vijayakant an image makeover," says political commentator M Bharath. "He came to be known as very raw and instinctive as a politician and she helped tone down the roughness. It was also important to lure women into the party. But when his health began to fail, she had to very obviously step in to campaign," he adds.
The need for her to come out and campaign from 2016 on wards due to Vijayakant's ill health, proved to be an opportunity for her to display her oratory skills and ability to connect with masses. Her brother, Sudhish was still considered second in line, in the party, after Vijayakant. But over time, Premalatha's stature has grown, and she has emerged the de facto leader of the party.
Wife and wearer of crown
Sources in the DMK and AIADMK confirm that while Sudhish may have been the one facing the cameras over the alliance talks, Premalatha was pulling the strings.
"They were both there for the alliance talks and she was definitely part of the decision making process," says a source in the AIADMK. "We were under pressure from the BJP to form this alliance. To us only the Vijayakant brand matters though Premalatha seems to be the de facto leader," he adds.
Talking to TNM, senior journalist, Kavitha Muralidharan, points out that Premalatha has already positioned herself as the leader of the party.
"She and her brother are acting in tandem but she has taken up the mantle. While he is contesting she has chosen to tour the constituencies and gather support, as a leader would," she says. "But we cannot forget that the entire party is leader centric and came into existence because of Vijayakant's charisma," she adds.
And this confusion reflects on the ground where the party cadre is divided over Premalatha stepping up to the throne.
Not ready for change?
"To us, Vijayakant is the only leader of the party," says SM Murugan, the DMDK's Coimbatore District Secretary. "It doesn't matter if Sudhish is the face now. We are not thinking of our next leader now," he says, making it clear that no one else has hold any particular sway over the cadre. He refers to Premalatha as 'Anni', (brother's wife) and says, "Sudhish is Anni's brother and so he will be loyal to them. That is all that matters."
Mohamed Ali, a DMDK member who contested the 2016 assembly elections and was witness to Premalatha's abilities to draw crowds says there is no competition.
"She is a better orator than Sudhish and is not scared of anyone. She speaks bravely, without fearing consequences and we saw that even recently. The alliance issues got solved only after she stepped in," he says. "When she comes to meet cadre she stays back till everyone has seen her and we believe that she will take the party in the right line. The cadre are usually very motivated by all her speeches," he adds.
Murugan too admits that it was Premalatha's oratory skills that helped the party out of an embarrassing situation with DMK.
"But at the end of the day," says Murugan. "We are all here for our leader, Vijayakant."