The PMK Family
Many remember that Dr S Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK)
had once invited people to thrash him should he ever commit the sin of inducting family members into politics. That's water under the bridge considering his son, Anbumani, not only joined politics but got bumped up straight to a cabinet ministership in May 2006. It was only afterwards that he was "elected" into the Rajya Sabha.
So, when a local newspaper carried a picture of CPIM leader Brinda Karat warmly shaking hands with Sowmya of the PMK, it caught my attention. Yes, she is the wife of Anbumani, who as union minister for health has courted controversy right from the word go. Incidentally, some argue that his position is untenable because the PMK, which was a part of the Democratic Progressive Alliance, has been shown the door. Be that as it may, he went and met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi after the PMK was jettisoned by the DMK and claimed that she had advised that the "DPA remain united."
What was interesting was that Sowmya (along with PMK president G K Mani) represented the party at the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee with political parties on the Women's Reservation Bill. At the meeting on June 23, she explained the party's views on the crucial bill and appealed for OBC reservation in Parliament.
So, does it mean Sowmya too is taking the plunge into politics? After all she comes from a political lineage--her father Krishnaswamy is the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president and her brother, Vishnu Prasad, is a prominent member of the Congress.
Sowmya had earlier said that she had no ambitions of becoming an MP and that her priority was to take care of her three girls and do justice to Pasumai Thyagam (an NGO founded by her husband to take up environment issues. She, incidentally, is also a shareholder and content counselor of the PMK's television channel, Makkal TV.
The Significant Other
Sowmya, apart from Durga Stalin, is among the most low profile, when one considers the wives of prominent political leaders. While Kanimozhi is in a class of her own, being an MP, the others like Premalatha Vijayakanth and Radhika Sarathkumar are constantly in the news. Of course Radhika makes news because she is an actress, as well as the head of a leading TV and film production company and once was a star campaigner for the DMK before husband, actor Sarathkumar, launched the All India Samuthuva Makkal Katchi in August last year. "I don't think I will take up a party post in future," Radhika maintains.
Leagues ahead in the political stakes in the Desiya Morpoku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founded by another actor Vijayakanth, known here as "Captain". Captain has made no bones about wanting to be the CM, and supporting him to the hilt is his wife, Premalatha. She not only campaigned in Virudachalam from where Vijayakanth won in 2006, but was also involved in the preparation of the DMDK's first manifesto, gave inputs to her husband to sharpen his political speeches and even helped organize conferences of the party, which was launched in September 2005.
Women To The Fore?
Maybe all these women will contribute towards a better representation of women in the assembly because at the moment it is abysmal although the AIADMK is headed by a woman who has been CM twice. Significantly, although both the DMK and AIADMK claim they support 33 per cent reservation for women, neither party has implemented it. In fact, neither party has fielded even 20 per cent women even though 1977 to 1991 saw the number of women MLAs going up from two to 32.
In fact, the AIADMK, which gave 26 women tickets (all of them won) in 1991--the DMK fielded six and all of them lost--found only 22 "winnable" women in 2006, 15 years later. The DMK was off to a slower start and fielded 16 women in 2001 only to bring the number down to 13 in the last election. In 2006, there were 160 women candidates in the fray, the largest ever. And most of them stood as independents.
Vijay, Next In Line?
That politics is the next step for actors in Tamil Nadu is almost a given. Only Rajnikanth is still doing the hesitation waltz, but seeing that he earns Rs 17 crore per film (not including the distribution rights he garners), he's got his priorities right. But young actor Vijay--who turned 35 last week--could be a future politician. The Illayathalapathi, the name given to this popular star from Kollywood, says he harbours no political aspiration. "This (the flag) is only a symbol of my fan association. Floating a political party and going to the people is not an easy thing," he said.
He was the cynosure of all eyes when he used his birthday to launch his flag (Vijayakanth turned his flag into his party flag when he launched the DMDK) and also celebrate the 15th anniversary of his fan association called "Illayathalapathi Vijay Rasigar Narpani Mandram." Incidentally, there are 47,000 fan associations all over TN, a measure of just how popular Vijay is.
The flag was a talking point. It is white with a light blue circle in the middle which has a picture of the actor with his right hand stretched out and his index finger pointing. The circle has a slogan "Unnal Mudiyam" (You Can) while the white part of the flag has another slogan "uzhaithidu, uyarnthidu" (work, rise). Inspirational stuff!