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Rajinikanth's apology to Jayalalithaa, a long-pending closure for the actor

When Tamil superstar Rajinikanth compared Jayalalithaa (her name is sometimes spelt as Jayalalitha) with Kohinoor diamond on Sunday and paid tributes to her, it appeared to be a befitting and long-pending closure for the actor because 20 years ago, it was the actor who had fuelled the undercurrent that swept her away.

Jaya’s 1991-1996 regime, which despite its progressive initiatives aimed at women and children and the health sector, was notorious for its recklessness and the fear that it evoked in common people. It was her first ever term after her humiliating experiences with the original All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and after the demise of MGR. It was all about power and authority.

 Rajinikanths apology to Jayalalithaa, a long-pending closure for the actor

Rajinikanth. Image from IBNlive

Sasikala, who by then had moved in with her to the Poes Garden, and her family were the source of most of this fear. Stories and allegations of indiscriminate land-grabs, rampant corruption, and assaults on opponents, critics and the media were so common that it became part of the state’s folklore. It was then that a completely miffed Rajinikanth appeared to take on her — at least as a symbol of public anger — finally tipping the balance against her.

That’s precisely why Rajinikanth was apologetic at the condolence meeting of the South Indian Artistes’ Association in Chennai where he regretted that he was one of the main reasons why she lost in 1996. Twenty years ago, he had famously said that even gods couldn’t save Tamil Nadu if she came back to power; but on Sunday he referred to her as "diamond". "Despite the pressure from a patriarchal society, she shone like one (diamond) and now she rests, like a Kohinoor diamond, besides Puratchi Thalaivar MGR's memorial," Rajini reportedly said.

In 1996, although the odds were heavily against Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu still lacked a catalyst that would unite the streams of dislike, fear and anger against her and Sasikala and her family. The Congress in the state, then led by GK Moopanar, had almost entirely become a new entity called the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) because Narasimha Rao had asked them to go with Jayalalithaa, something they didn’t agree with and was quite stretched in terms of resources. And, all that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-TMC alliance had on its side was anti-incumbency against Jaya. They needed a unifying force that would make the chemistry of coalition work. And the man that everybody — not just the DMK and the TMC — looked for was Rajinikanth.

Rajini, as his practice was those days, escaped from Chennai and went to the US, leaving the people, the DMK and TMC with no chance but to speculate on his support and interpret his loaded movie dialogues. Probably, they would have won without his support, had he stayed neutral; but there was no room for risks. This was a victory everybody desperately needed and they wanted Rajini to make it foolproof. In fact, the critical question those days was hardly political, but, if or not Rajini would return before the election and play ball.

And he did return to Chennai a few days before the election to an unprecedented welcome at the airport. But, he didn’t say anything. Some journalists from Chennai went all the way to Mumbai to travel back with him to see if he would commit, but he didn’t. However, at home, to a handful of reporters that could sneak in with him when the gates were opened for his car, he made his intention clear for the first time. That’s when he said the famous words that sealed the fate of Jayalalithaa: “Even gods and saints will not be able to save this state if she comes back to power.” He said this in English and was captured by the lone ANI TV cameraman. The Sun TV, run by Karunanidhi’s nephew, would broadcast the video a million times.

In the evening, he attended a keenly awaited public function that also became a magnet for reporters waiting for more from him. He didn’t say much but recounted a story of his haircut in the US (he returned from the US with a near-tonsured head) and how he fell asleep during the expensive "hairdo". This story was used by Jaya’s supporters such as the late actor Manorama to project him in a bad light. (Manorama patched things with Rajini later)

The days to the election were numbered and Rajini finally did throw in his lot with the TMC, or rather the DMK-TMC alliance. It appeared that his supported the alliance because he liked the TMC, which had some fine national and local leaders.

Rajini’s support was not restricted to mere words. His network of fan clubs immediately swung into action and everywhere, they augmented the cadre support for the DMK-TMC candidates. They were omnipresent and TMC’s cycle symbol was easy for them because that was their idol’s vehicle in a superhit movie titled Annamalai. Posters of Rajini with the cycle appeared side by side with the posters of the TMC candidates. Rajini was the medium and the message. And Jaya was trounced.

Atter the election, there was absolutely no regret in Rajini about him being the main cause for Jaya’s debacle. He also appeared justified when loathsome stories of Jaya’s alleged gross misrule surfaced in quick succession. However, later on, as his affinity for the BJP, reported by some Delhi-based journalists citing his closeness to LK Advani and actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha, became more evident, his political relevance in Tamil Nadu died a natural death.

As he himself recounted in his apologetic condolence meeting on Sunday, all that happened subsequently were personal — Jaya treated him well when he invited her to his daughter's wedding and that changed him. Between good manners and politics, he chose the former. He never spoke ill of her again. The rest of the story is about a happy ending.

Probably, what eluded Rajini till now was a proper closure because 1996 was a watershed in Jaya’s career and all these years of good manners by Jaya may have made him repent it. Besides, Karunanidhi, who replaced her, was also not free from alleged family-led misrule, particularly during 2006-11. By openly admitting regret, Rajini seems to have found his peace. As of now, the DMK doesn’t need to worry because Rajini in his 60s is not the Rajini of his 40s; but his 2.0, the magnum opus in the making, might make him relevant again.

The person who should be cautious is Sasikala because Rajini owes her nothing.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2016 13:49:15 IST

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