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Tamil actor Vijay has sprung a surprise on political observers with his quasi-political fan club Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam winning 115 posts in the recently concluded rural local body polls in Tamil Nadu.

The actor, who enjoys the title ‘Thalapathy’ or ‘leader’ among fans, had allowed the fan club to contest the elections held in nine districts despite filing a civil suit earlier against 11 people, including his parents, barring them from using his name or image to hold public meetings or gatherings.

The outfit won 115 seats and according to its general secretary and former Congress Puducherry MLA Bussy Anand, won unopposed in 13 seats. Anand also told the media that 45 of the 115 winners are women, and other winners include farmers, lab technicians, students, school teachers, and traders.

The elections were swept by the DMK which won 138 out of the 140 district panchayat union seats. The main opposition AIADMK could only manage two seats, its second major drubbing after the 2021 Assembly elections.

The All India Thalapathy Makkal Iyyakam has more than 10 lakh registered members and the fans association generally does not have any political affiliations, except in the 2011 elections, when Vijay extended support to the AIADMK and Jayalalithaa. The outfit carries out social work like running medical camps, setting up water kiosks, and campaigns for civic issues in some pockets of the state.

Its presence is nowhere as deep-rooted as established political parties like the DMK and the AIADMK, but does enjoy loyal following of the actor’s fans.

Films starring Vijay in the recent years have carried political messages ranging from the covert like Mersal, which got in trouble with the BJP for jokes on GST and demonization, to the covert like Sarkar, that portrayed the actor as a tech-titan who enters politics to take on seasoned politicians in power. But the actor has been tight-lipped about any plans to join politics.

Vijay’s political identity recently suffered a dent when his father, filmmaker SA Chandrasekaran, made significantly political announcements on his behalf, upsetting the actor.

In this context, the Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam’s electoral success is significant. It reflects the grassroots support that Vjiay enjoys. Going forward, the outfit can build on this momentum to capture the mood of the electorate with demographic focus. Vijay’s ability to pull in crowds has not gone undemonstrated. At the audio launch of his latest venture Bigil, swarms of fans outside the venue led to major traffic snarls.

It also offers a potential candidate to fill in the void left by matinee idols like MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa who successfully turned their fan following into a voter base. For two decades, superstar Rajinikanth tempted his fan base with political overtures, but put any political plans to bed for good recently.

Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) fared poorly in the local body polls as did actor Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK).

The ruling DMK, the only constant in Tamil Nadu politics since the demise of Jayalalithaa and the rift in AIADMK, has been trying to prop up actor Udhayanidhi Stalin as the next-gen political leader, but neither he nor his father, Chief Minister MK Stalin, command a fan following as large as Vijay.

If Vijay does take the political plunge with the Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, Tamil Nadu will host a David versus Goliath battle between an outfit borne out of popular support and charisma and a party driven by cadre and philosophy.

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