Whether in 1977 against then PM Indira Gandhi or in 2019 against PM Modi, Vaiko has been at the forefront of black flag demonstrations in Tamil Nadu.

Vaikos return to Delhi Once Stalins fierce critic now Rajya Sabha MP with DMKs help
news Politics Wednesday, July 03, 2019 - 08:29

Popularly known as Vaiko, Vaiyapuri Gopalasamy’s political career lends credence to the adage that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. With his signature black shawl draped over his shoulder, MDMK Chief Vaiko will enter the Rajya Sabha as a Member of Parliament after 23 years, with the backing of the DMK, a party that had expelled him in 1993.

Much water has flown under the bridge since 1994 when Vaiko split the DMK to form the MDMK after accusing then party chief Karunanidhi of nepotism and favouritism. The irony of Vaiko being proposed as DMK’s Rajya Sabha nominee now is not lost on anyone in Tamil Nadu given that MDMK’s raison d’etre was its opposition to MK Stalin’s rise in the party- an eventuality that Vaiko has not only accepted but a name he now vociferously endorses as the next Chief Minister of the state.  

The Rajya Sabha Election on July 18 will see DMK MLAs vote to elect the 75-year-old MDMK leader for his fourth term in the Upper House. Vaiko served as Rajya Sabha MP for 18 years between 1978 and 1996, while he was elected as Lok Sabha MP from Sivakasi in 1998 and in 1999.  

“Vaiko has earned his Rajya Sabha nomination. He is a symbol of resistance, opposition, and of camaraderie and struggle. He is a symbol of an era bygone. For the DMK he is a prized catch – he is an example that you can’t mess around with him,” observes RK Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor of Frontline.

Whether in 1977 against then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or in 2019 against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vaiko has been at the forefront of black flag demonstrations in Tamil Nadu against the Centre and its policies. A champion of the Eelam Tamil cause, his meeting with LTTE Chief Prabhakaran in the jungles of Sri Lanka in 1989 was no secret. A fiery orator, his speeches, especially in relation to the Sri Lankan war, have landed him in jail on several occasions including a 19-month stint between 2002 and 2004. In fact, as per MDMK’s webpage, Vaiko has the dubious distinction of spending four years in prison – the most by any Dravidian leader.  

Senior journalist R Mani points out, “Now 70+, he is an old warhorse. Whatever his shortcomings, he is a consistent politician – a solid supporter of LTTE and Prabhakaran. In spite of several problems, he has stood up for the cause.” But in many ways, it’s the very same politics that perhaps has contributed to his downfall. “The MDMK is a one-agenda party – that of carving a separate state in another nation. He has had no solid policies,” says Mani.

Ten years on since the decimation of the LTTE in 2009, is Vaiko and his brand of politics still relevant in Tamil Nadu?

“All what he has stood for went away when he decided to join hands with DMK. While he was relevant to the entire concept of Dravidian ethos, he is no longer relevant in that sphere,” explains Radhakrishnan, “He brought with him a firebrand variety of Dravidianism which appealed to the youth – direct action, Prabhakaran and the Sri Lankan Tamil cause, being jailed and not bothered. Today that space is occupied by Seeman, while for the urban youth it is Kamal Haasan.”  

Swinging between Dravidian majors

Despite attempting to emerge as an alternative on a number of occasions, the MDMK has, over the years, allied with either the DMK or the AIADMK in elections. While it came a cropper in its electoral debut in 1996, the subsequent 1998 Lok Sabha Election saw the MDMK join the NDA alliance which also had Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and the PMK. 

While the NDA combine won 30 out of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, Vaiko’s party managed to garner a vote share of over 6%, having bagged 3 seats. In the subsequent 1999 Parliamentary polls, Vaiko joined hands with Karunanidhi under the NDA umbrella, and won four seats. But the love didn’t last long, with Vaiko walking out of the alliance before the 2001 Assembly Elections, choosing to contest 213 constituencies on its own.

In 2002, Vaiko was arrested for a pro-LTTE speech, with the Jayalalithaa-led Tamil Nadu government slapping the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) charges against him. Karunanidhi came out in his support, even visiting him at the Vellore prison. The animosity dissipated and by 2004, Vaiko was back with the DMK for the Lok Sabha Elections as part of the UPA alliance, which went on to sweep the polls in Tamil Nadu.

Radhakrishnan notes that Vaiko’s peak was in 2004 after his 19-month stint in jail. Having campaigned extensively across the state for the UPA alliance, the journalist says, “He brought about the turnaround for the DMK combine in 2004.”

But by 2006, Vaiko had fallen out with the DMK once again, accusing Karunanidhi of not according the MDMK the respect it deserved. He joined forces with Jayalalithaa for the 2006 Assembly Elections, but the alliance was defeated by the DMK.

Tying up with AIADMK in the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections, the MDMK managed to win just one seat while the DMK-Congress alliance went on to win 27 constituencies. 

Dumped by Jayalalithaa, his party chose to boycott the 2011 Assembly Elections, while the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw the MDMK fight under the NDA alliance, which included the BJP, PMK, and the DMDK. Vaiko, however, soon walked out of the NDA accusing PM Modi of betraying Tamil Nadu’s interests.

By 2016, the MDMK was part of the People’s Welfare Front – a coalition of smaller parties that included the Left, and the VCK, while DMDK was also brought on board as part of an electoral tie-up. The PWF, however, failed to win a single seat and the alliance collapsed soon after the elections.

“The problem in Tamil Nadu is that Dravidian majors left no space for third parties to prosper. You can’t grow once you join one of the combines. The third alternative space is so small. MDMK came in with a bang. But it was unable to sustain that momentum with a weak ideological base,” says Radhakrishnan.

It was in August 2017 that Vaiko managed to break the ice with Stalin, when he visited an ailing Karunanidhi at his Gopalapuram residence. The two have since shared the dias on a number of occasions, with the MDMK leader going to the extent of backing Stalin for CM. In 2019, the MDMK chose to return to the UPA alliance led by the DMK in the state, with Vaiko being promised a Rajya Sabha seat as part of the pre-poll agreement. Mani points to the fact that the party’s lone candidate A Ganesamoorthy contested and won from the DMK’s rising sun symbol in Erode. “He has crossed the stage where he can run a political party. Almost everyone who joined MDMK has left. Ganesamoorthy stood under rising sun symbol. That says volumes,” says the senior journalist.

However, despite the party’s voteshare tumbling to less than 1%, he argues that Vaiko still holds relevance, “Vaiko and the MDMK are still relevant because of Modi. His approach to destroying the federal structure, multi-culturalism and pluralism gives relevance to leaders like Vaiko.”

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