Rajinikanth will have to prove mettle as statesman to rise above criticism from Tamil fringe groups

Sreedhar Pillai

Jan 13, 2018 12:16:43 IST

A week ago, Tamil Superstar Rajinikanth announced that he is entering the murky world of Tamil politics. He will form a party and contest in all the 234 assembly seats, closer to Tamil Nadu elections, which is due in 2021. For the last 22 years, it has been more of a speculation as Rajinikanth and his PR machinery through press stories and dialogues in his films hinted of a political entry and kept the pot boiling. But no politician or analyst took him seriously and dismissed it as just another promotional stunt at the time of his film’s release.

Rajinikanth SM

File image of Rajinikanth

However, today there is a vacuum in Tamil Nadu politics with Jayalalithaa’s death and Karunanidhi’s retirement from active politics. Palaniswamy is surviving on a thin margin and is yet to be tested in the assembly with the speaker suspending 18 dissident AIADMK MLA owing allegiance to TTV Dinakaran.  

And recently, with TTV Dinakaran trouncing the ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK in the RK Nagar by-election, the political situation has become even hazier.  The political pundits are predicting the fall of EPS government soon followed by a period of president’s rule and then elections. It is at this crucial juncture that Rajinikanth has made his sensational announcement.

The Hindu summed it up well in an editorial, “On New Year’s Eve, when Rajinikanth announced his decision to enter politics, he took care to appear as if he were stepping in to fill a political vacuum in the interest of the people of Tamil Nadu and not to further his own ambition. With the AIADMK in disarray and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi politically inactive on account of age-related ill-health, the political scene in the state seems set for a churn”.

And a week after Rajinikanth’s “earthshaking decision to enter politics”, the superstar has created a groundswell of support among the ordinary people. A day after his political announcement, Rajinikanth launched a web site and an app to bring all his registered fan clubs under one umbrella. In early 1970s, when MGR was thrown out of DMK by Karunanidhi, the first thing he did was to reorganise and strengthen his fan organisations.

Rajinikanth, unlike other politicians, believes that he is clear in what he does and does not want to hide anything. On 1 January, he made a visit to Ramakrishna Math in Chennai and took the blessings of the swamis in the full glare of the media. The actor-turned-politician also clarified on his controversial statement that he will follow “spiritual politics”, which according to his interpretation is an “honest politics free of caste or religion”. However, his detractors say that he is the closest to Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Trojan horse in Tamil Nadu. Every political party who is opposed to BJP feel that the party is trying to make a backdoor entry into the state using Rajinikanth, especially after NOTA got more votes than BJP in RK Nagar by-poll.   

Later, the superstar drove down to the residence of DMK strongman Karunanidhi, seeking his blessings. It was a smart move as Karunanidhi was instrumental, along with GK Moopanar, on Rajinikanth making a statement, “ If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even  God cannot save Tamil Nadu”, which saw her unpopular government trounced in the 1996 polls. In the public perception, it gave the image that Rajinikanth is a fair man and he acknowledges Karunanidhi as one of the stalwarts of Tamil politics and also helps him to garner traditional DMK votes in future. Stalin, the man who runs DMK currently and will lose out if Rajinikanth enters active politics, received the superstar with a glum face at his father’s Gopalapuram residence. After spending 15 minutes with the DMK leaders, Rajinikanth told media persons that it was a courtesy call to extend his New Year greetings to a “towering political personality and seek his blessing”.

And a day later, Rajinikanth also visited the house of the ailing RM Veerappan, MGR Kazhagam party president and former minister in MGR and Jayalaithaa cabinets. He was once the most influential producer who made films with MGR and Rajinikanth and understands the hold of commercial mass cinema on Tamil Nadu audiences. In 1995, when Veerappan was a minister in Jayalalithaa’s cabinet, he produced Rajinikanth’s iconic mega blockbuster Baasha, and at the 100th day function of the film, the superstar remarked, “Bomb culture has grown” in Tamil Nadu.

The actor’s remarks came days after a bomb attack at the house of director Mani Ratnam by some fringe elements protesting against his film Bombay. RMV as Veerapan is fondly called in the industry was sitting on the dais at the time when Rajinikanth made his controversial statement.  And a few days later RMV  was unceremoniously dropped from Jayalalithaa’s cabinet. This set the ball rolling that Rajini is entering politics and will be mentored by RMV, who was MGR’s favourite producer and political advisor.

And during the weekend, Rajinikanth flew to Malaysia to attend Natchathira Vizha 2018, a star night organised by the artists association to get funds for their building. The entire spotlight was on the superstar, though Kamal Haasan, who is also planning to start his political outfit, was there. They shared the same dais but everybody including actors wanted to take selfie with him. It was also the first time that the two were together for the first time after they announced their political plans.

The biggest takeaway from the last one week’s development is that Rajinikanth, in filmi terms, has taken a very good opening as a politician. He had a perfect timing or a release date of his political agenda when the state was looking for an alternative to 50 years of Dravidian rule. According to many surveys, people by and large trust him, a man with the image of a monk, somebody who is “Mr Clean” and is simple, honest and fair-minded in his dealings. His track record as an actor, who compensated all distributors and right holders after the failure of his films Baba (2002), Kuselan (2008) and Lingaa (2014), proves he is honest and not lured by money. And in the last one week, he has made an attempt to be seen as an “even friendlier guy”, waiting patiently to be clicked or selfied with the rich and the poor. Now, almost the entire film industry, including Vishal (who unsuccessfully tried to contest in RK Nagar by-poll) have vowed to support him.

AR Rahman has hinted that he supports Rajinikanth or whoever is willing to give strong leadership.  Rahman said, “I personally feel that the state needs strong leadership. Whoever comes in, whether it is Rajinikanth or not, must cater to the needs of the people in bettering infrastructure, music and arts and make lives better for all the farmers. I feel that kind of a miracle should happen.”

But the opposition to Rajinikanth mainly from political parties and Tamil fringe groups has increased. They see him only as a proxy of BJP and believe the actor will fade away at the last moment. Now, Rajinikanth has to get his act together to form a party with a name and a political manifesto and prove his detractors wrong. Otherwise, like so many other long list of actors who made a political plunge thinking that they can transform their box-office clout into votes, he too may end up like a Chiranjeevi. However, this time around Rajinikanth believes he will crack the code and work out something new in politics as he continues to meet people and will soon form a think tank group which will advise him on the best way forward. It is early days but 2018 promises to be an exciting period in Tamil Nadu politics.

Updated Date: Jan 13, 2018 12:16:43 IST