Profiles of Indian Politicians
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Marudur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, or MGR as he was widely known, was a unique phenomenon in Indian politics.|
Idolized by his followers as a "Puratchi Thalaivar" (revolutionary leader), MGR was a prominent film star who parlayed his popularity with the masses into a successful second career as a politician.
Born in Kandy, Sri Lanka in 1917, MGR's family moved to India a few years later. Hard poverty compelled MGR to join the theater at the early age of seven and then enter the movie business as an actor.
After MGR's mentor C.W.Annadurai died in 1969, Muthuvel Karunanidhi became the leader of the DMK and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. MGR parted with the DMK and Karunanidhi in 1974 after making corruption the main issue. "They have corrupted a party that was once incorruptible," MGR told The New York Times in 1974. "What they do best is lie, give false accounts, take money." It's likely that Karunanidhi's efforts to promote his son Muthu as a film star also played a role in MGR's decision to leave the DMK.
After parting ways with the DMK, MGR launched the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. In the 1977 state Legislative Assembly elections, MGR's ADMK won a resounding victory over the DMK.
MGR and his political offspring, the ADMK never looked back after that. Until his death in 1987, MGR comfortably won the two subsequent state Legislative Assembly elections.
The name of his party was later changed to AIADMK, with the prefix "AI" standing for All India.
Even as the rural and urban poor idolized him, the middle class and the media was disdainful of the star.
Some political observers are dismissive of the MGR era. "His style of governance was autocratic, his demeanour feudal, his attitude vndictive, his administration inefficient," noted the writers from news magazine India Today in the aftermath of MGR's death.
Professor M.S.S.Pandian in his analytical study of the MGR phenomenon is even more critical describing MGR's 11-year rule "as undoubtedly one of the darkest periods in the contemporary history of the state. Under his dispensation, profiteers of different kinds...greatly prospered while a stagnant, if not declining economy forced the poor, who constituted the mainstay of MGR's support, into unbearable misery."
While it is true that the lot of the poor did not improve much during MGR's reign, the situation was not much different in other states of India. Most likely, the plight of the poor was far worse in several other states, particularly Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.
MGR's best known program was the free mid-day meal scheme for poor children. Dismissed as a populist program by academics, the media and middle class, the program ensured for hundreds of thousands of children poor children the only hearty meal of the day.
Such was MGR's sway over the poor people in Tamil Nadu that his death on December 24, 1987 brought life to a standstill in Tamil Nadu. His fans engaged in an orgy of violence and looting.
After his death, MGR was succeeded by his wife Janaki as Chief Minister. However, Janaki's tenure was short-lived and she faded away from the political scene. Ever since, the political battle in Tamil Nadu has been fought primarily between Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha with the Congress party on the sidelines.
MGR - Filmography|
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Laloo Prasad Yadav