AIADMK cadres seethe over BJP’s appropriation of MGR, but wait it out

Experts say while senior leadership is mum due to alliance with BJP, latter’s usage of MGR’s image for 2021 Assembly polls may endanger prospects of AIADMK in 2026 polls

A BJP poster featuring AIADMK leader MG Ramachandran

The wrap-up of Tamil Nadu BJP’s month-long Vetrivel Yatra is just a week away, and AIADMK cadres are miffed at the way the saffron party has breezed through the event despite prohibitory orders, and appropriated their leader MGR while the Edappadi Palaniswami government looked the other way.

While party cadres and a few leaders feel the current AIADMK leadership lacks the rigidness of their late leader J Jayalalithaa, experts say they are waiting for the Assembly elections to be over, as any ruckus in the party now would instantly give an edge to the DMK.

The same dissatisfaction was expressed in the party organ Namadhu Amma on November 16. The article was a rejoinder to the BJP’s national women wing chief Vanathi Srinivasan’s speech a day before, where she said the yatra would have taken place at any cost and if the government tries to stop, it would face severe consequences.

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“People embarking on the Vel Yatra must realise that the AIADMK government will never allow any attempts to polarise the state on the basis of religion, for getting votes,” it said.

A feeble protest

A week before the start of the yatra, the BJP released three videos on social media eulogising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party’s state leader L Murugan. Two of the videos had the images of AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran paired with songs from his films like Uzhaikkum Karangal and Vivasaayee. Another song that equated Modi with MGR went as ‘Pommana Chemmalin Amsamaai Naangal Modiyai Kandomada’ meaning ‘they found MGR in the form of Modi’.

Clips of MGR playing a farmer – holding a plough and driving a tractor – were used in the videos to show his contribution towards the farmers.

The videos have angered AIADMK leaders and cadres, alike.

However, besides leaders like KP Munusamy, the deputy coordinator of the party, D Jayakumar, the fisheries minister and Vaigai Chelvan, the party’s propaganda secretary, no one else openly called out the BJP’s appropriation of their leader.

“Only AIADMK has the rights to use the image of MGR. The ideology of BJP is different from us. So it should not use or claim MGR’s legacy,” said Vaigai Chelvan.

But the cadres feel it was not enough. They expected either Palaniswami or his deputy O Panneerselvam to strongly object to the appropriation, but in vain.

Others say the fault lies with the AIADMK which may have inadvertently ignored MGR while focusing on Jayalalithaa. They say, the party should give priority to MGR on its posters over Jayalalithaa as he was the founder of the party.

“After MGR died, he became a common property for many. Let BJP use him, we don’t have any problem with that. But our concern is the AIADMK should project MGR more than Jayalalithaa. Without MGR there is no Jayalalithaa. But the party always says that they will provide ‘Amma Aatchi’. Instead, they should say that they will provide ‘MGR Aatchi’. His was a truly golden period,” said Subramani, a hardcore MGR fan and an artist who impersonates the AIADMK leader for a living.

Does MGR fit the ‘Hindutva’ bill?

Many others said MGR, despite his religious activities was a secular man, and may be a misfit in the BJP’s Hindutva agenda and therefore should not be wrongly used as an icon by the party.

“It is a known fact that MGR used to visit the Kollur Mookambikai temple. He also ensured electricity to Marudhamalai Murugan temple. But these should not be a reason to term him as a Hindu icon,” said journalist-turned-advocate Iniyan Kirubakar.

“MGR had accepted his mentor CN Annadurai’s ‘Ondrey Kulam Oruvaney Devan’ (one community, one god) principle. Though he worshiped Hindu Gods, he also had an idol of Jesus Christ in his bedroom. When the communal riots broke out at Mandaikadu in Kanyakumari district in 1982, MGR spoke out against the RSS and issued a warning to them,” he said.

This is not the first time that the BJP has tried to appropriate MGR. In July this year, members of the party draped a saffron shawl on a statue of the AIADMK leader in Puducherry. In October, the women wing of BJP in Tiruvallur district staged a protest against VCK chief Thol Thirumavalavan’s statement about the treatment of women in Manusmriti. The protest took place near a statue of MGR in an apparent message to the AIADMK that by remaining mum on Thirumavalavan’s remarks, it forgot to follow the legacy of its leader, who had a huge woman voter base.

Will the appropriation help BJP?

KC Palanisamy, a former AIADMK MP and an MGR loyalist says the BJP is trying to appropriate MGR to split the AIADMK’s vote in the upcoming Assembly elections.

“The BJP’s aim is to pit its Hindutva narrative against Dravidianism. It is trying to place itself against the DMK, even though it should be an AIADMK vs DMK battle. It is being done to make the AIADMK cadres lose hope in the strength of their leadership, goading them to convert the AIADMK vote bank into a BJP vote bank,” he said.

Palaniswamy refutes the arguments of the BJP that MGR himself was pro-Hindu and says the saffron party has also appropriated Sardar Vallabai Patel and Ambedkar for its own benefit.

“If you (BJP) consider MGR as a national leader, then announce a central schemes in his name,” he said.

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Palaniswamy says the AIADMK leadership is silent to the BJP’s event and its appropriation of MGR as it fears the Centre will open cases of corruption against the party leaders.

“If this appropriation is not stopped now, in 2026 the BJP could devour the AIADMK. To prevent that I am creating an awareness among the cadres. If they start opposing the present leadership before the election, it will give an edge to the DMK. So they not voicing their concerns now. But the scene will change after the elections,” Palanisamy said.

R Kannan, a senior civil servant and the biographer of MGR says even if non-Dravidian parties try, it would be difficult for them to appropriate MGR or his legacy.

“Even if they did, I would not underestimate Tamil Nadu voters,” he said.

“It is common in election campaigns for alliance partners to use the photographs or images of the leaders of their allies. Thus you will see Anna and Kamaraj next to each other. It is likely that this is understood by the leadership and hence the silence,” he said.

“As long as appropriating MGR is concerned, even Rajinikanth would find it difficult to lay claim to his legacy,” Kannan added.

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