Veteran Tamil film actor and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) party founder Vijayakanth passed away on December 28th, 2023 at the age of 71 in Chennai. He had tested positive for COVID-19 recently and was on life support. Vijayakanth’s demise has left his fans, colleagues from the Tamil film industry and political spectrum grieving.
Background and Personal Life
Vijayakanth was born on August 25, 1952 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. An action hero who was fondly called “Captain” by his fans, he acted in over 150 films in a career spanning over three decades. Some of his most popular films include Captain Prabhakaran, Vaanchinathan, Sethupathi IPS and Enga Veetu Pillai.
He married Premalatha in 1990, who went on to become the treasurer and women’s wing secretary of the DMDK party. The couple has two daughters together – Aishwarya and Divyadarshini.
Foray into Politics
After finding success as a leading man in commercial Tamil films throughout the 80s and 90s, Vijayakanth formally launched the DMDK party in 2005 as an alternative to the two dominant Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu – AIADMK and DMK.
Positioning himself as a champion of the oppressed, he attracted sizeable support from poorer and marginalized communities and youth due to his on-screen image as an anti-establishment ‘do-gooder’.
In 10 years, the DMDK emerged as the second largest opposition party after DMK in the 2011 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections with an 8.38% vote share. While he failed to become Chief Minister despite coming very close in 2011, his meteoric rise offered a credible third alternative in Tamil Nadu’s bipolar electoral landscape.
Decline in Recent Years
However, Vijayakanth and the DMDK gradually ceded ground to other regional challengers like actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) party as he took a backseat from active campaigning and politics due to failing health in recent years.
He was hospitalized in the US for close to a year during 2016-17 for medical treatment. After returning, Vijayakanth made very few public appearances and speeches. His frail condition led many party members and cadre to quit the DMDK and join rival parties like the MNM over the last 3-4 years.
The DMDK’s vote share declined rapidly from 7.9% in 2016 to just about 2.5% in the 2021 Tamil Nadu assembly elections.
Hospitalized in Critical Condition
On December 8th, 2022, Vijayakanth was admitted to MIOT Hospitals in Chennai due to breathing difficulties and fluctuating blood pressure brought on by a chronic respiratory illness.
He tested positive for COVID-19 during this hospital stay and was recovering in the isolation ward for treatment of pneumonia over the last 20 days. However, his condition deteriorated since the morning of December 28th, eventually leading to his unfortunate demise later in the afternoon.
Reactions from Political Leaders and Film Fraternity
Vijayakanth’s passing has elicited grief and condolences from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and other national level leaders:
Tweets Mourning Vijayakanth’s Death
|Deeply saddened by the demise of Thiru Vijayakanth Ji. He was widely respected as an actor who donned versatile roles. I have had the opportunity to interact with him on many occasions. May his soul rest in peace.
|We have lost a man who brought real issues to light. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, supporters and fans.
|Vijayakanth ji devoted his career to public service & social justice ideals. His contributions will continue inspiring many. Heartfelt condolences to his family, friends & supporters
Apart from political leaders, several Tamil film personalities like Kamal Haasan, AR Rahman, Suriya and Vishal also condoled his passing. Actors Silambarasan, Gautham Karthik and Vishnu Vishal were among the film personalities who turned up to pay their last respects.
Many of his die-hard fans assembled in large numbers outside the hospital premises to catch one final glimpse of their beloved ‘Captain’, while police struggled to control the crowds.
The Final Journey
The Tamil Nadu state government has announced that his funeral will be conducted with full state honors befitting a senior political leader. His mortal remains will be moved to his residence shortly and the final rites will be held at his native place in Madurai later today.
Political allies and supporters are expected to attend his funeral in large numbers. State Ministers from the DMK government will also participate to pay their respects.
The legacy of Vijayakanth’s contribution as a commercial entertainer who made a short but notable political splash with the DMDK will be fondly remembered by his legion of fans. For over a decade, he managed to emerge as the mascot of hope for the marginalized in Tamil society and a credible third alternative in the state’s electoral arena.
His death now puts the future of the already struggling DMDK party under more uncertainty. With the ailing 72-year old Vijayakanth no more at the helm, the party faces a leadership crisis at a time when it has ceded much ground among the state’s opposition space to the resurgent AIADMK under former Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and actor Kamal Haasan’s MNM. It remains to be seen if Vijayakanth’s wife Premalatha and brother-in-law LK Sudhish take charge and hold the party together at this critical hour.
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