The continuing political relevance of MGR

Nearly 33 years after the death of former Chief Minister and AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), different political players continue to stake a claim to his legacy in Tamil Nadu.

In recent days, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder Kamal Haasan has started projecting himself aggressively as a claimant of the legacy of MGR — the first actor to head a government in India.

In a tweet on Tuesday, he published a video of MGR felicitating him at an event in the 1980s, claiming that he “grew up” on the lap of the former Chief Minister. A couple of days ago in Madurai, he referred to MGR’s idea of creating a second capital for the State.

In March 2018, his long-standing colleague in films, Rajinikanth, who plans to launch a political party next month, declared that he wanted to revive MGR’s rule in the State.

Over a decade ago, DMDK founder Vijayakant had sought to fashion himself as “Black MGR”. Even the BJP’s State unit sought to use MGR’s image for its recent ‘Vetrivel Yatra’.

Congress MP S. Thirunavukkarasar, who served in MGR’s Ministry during 1980-87, said the AIADMK had not been projecting MGR to the extent that it does with Jayalalithaa.

“The present government keeps calling itself Amma’s [Jayalalithaa] regime,” he said. This could be one of the reasons behind the attempts of actor-politicians to claim MGR’s legacy.

As for the continuing relevance of MGR as a political factor, Mr. Thirunavukkarasar pointed out that even though the present youth might not have seen the former Chief Minister, his memory was being perpetuated through the conventional media and social media, which have been discussing his role in the State’s politics.

MNM vice-president R. Mahendran said the AIADMK had “gone astray” from MGR’s ideals and asserted that the former Chief Minister’s legacy “belonged to the people, and as a party, to us too.”

His party, he said, had also been doing everything to preserve the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and Kamaraj.

Former Minister and AIADMK organisation secretary C. Ponnaiyan denied the charge against the State government and his party. He said the present regime was formed by Jayalalithaa, who scored a “thumping victory” in the 2016 Assembly election. This was why Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, his colleagues and the party had been calling the government Amma’s [Jayalalithaa’] government,” he said.

“But you should not forget that she was the sole inheritor of MGR’s legacy, which belongs only to our party, the AIADMK. No one else can claim it,” he said, emphasising that Mr. Haasan and Mr. Rajinikanth had “no right” over the legacy.

Tamil writer J. Ramki, who has been specialising on Rajinikanth, said as the term “MGR rule” connoted a regime that worked for the welfare of all sections of society, regardless of caste, language or region, the former Chief Minister continued to be relevant, politically.

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