“Even if I come late, I will be the latest” – Superstar Rajinikanth lives up to his punch line. After prolonged speculation, the actor’s decision to enter politics proclaims that the vacillation is over. With both the Dravidian parties and their internal flutters unable to signify any cogent answer to the state’s ills, the film star’s resolve is well-timed. In a move to remap Tamil Nadu’s political landscape, he will form a new party and contest the next assembly elections.
Is ‘timing’ alone enough?
The dominant political outfits in the state are in a churn. There is not just a crisis of leadership but a mood of disenchantment and scepticism about politics. The state, home to 72m people, has been hit by political instability, thanks to the Dravidian insipidness since the death of Jayalalithaa, also a former film star.
The post-Amma AIADMK is ripped and ragged between factions, while the DMK looks exhausted, given the aging factor of the party’s patriarch Karunanidhi, while both the national parties – the BJP and the Congress – are kept at bay.
Can he convert his fan following to win votes, like Vijayakanth? Who knows, not just Vijayakanth’s members, the desolated cadres elsewhere may also flock to Rajini’s kitty.
Political observers perceive that Rajini is the harbinger of the post-Dravidian era, the first politician to voice spirituality, and some analysists sense that the Superstar and BJP are flirting with each other. As his fans are across all castes, religions and parties, he keeps off the Hindutva-BJP, though poll-time combo is another agenda. More than Rajinikanth needing the BJP, the BJP in Tamil Nadu needs the Superstar’s magnetic presence, their only hope to saffronise the state.
Testing times ahead
This is a turbulent time for the Dravidian leaders about effectively safeguarding their traditions. The “spiritual politics”, pending clarity, would resonate with those who are tired of the kind of corruption eternalised by ruling parties so far, while the 67-year old bus conductor-turned-heartthrob of Tamil cinema enters with no baggage.
Though Rajinikanth has noble intentions, in a country where communal, caste, regional and religious factors arouse more reaction than governance; his soft politics may not brave the rigours of a volatile ambience. Even big names like Kamaraj, Karunanidhi, MGR and Jayalalithaa had setbacks. For example, given his non-Tamil roots, he will be tested to prove his ‘Tamil’ loyalty every time Karnataka opens the Cauvery tap.
So, what is in store for Rajinikanth, who is widely acclaimed for almost single-handedly dislodging the Jayalalitha government in 1996?
Reel vs. Real
Can “spiritual politics” dare Dravidian policies and make inroads into the political traditions? While the political launch of actors is viewed as an extension of the rapport between TN politics and cinema over the years, can the actors be as accomplished in politics like some of their seniors? How the Superstar is going to align entertainment with “public service”?
As parallel heroes like Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna have shown by failing so miserably to make it in politics, Chiranjeevi (A.P.) and Ambreesh (Karnataka) fading as rapidly as they shone on the silver screen, Tamil superheroes Sivaji Ganesan and Sarathkumar leaving no mark in politics, mere stardom does not guarantee political fruition.
On the contrary, celebrated leaders like Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, M G Ramachandran (MGR), and Jayalalithaa, all landed the political destiny through their bewitching ideologies and personalities. MGR victoriously converted his on-screen eminence in securing three terms as Chief Minister.
As India gearing up for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, many cine-stars including Pawan Kalyan in A.P., Rajinikant and Kamal Haasan in TN, Upendra in Karnataka are testing the waters as political future of the southern states.
The charismatic persona
“If Tamil Nadu was a stock, I would go long”, boasted a tweet, the candid remark clearly backing the Superstar’s political decision.
Rajinikanth’s popularity is beyond any other Indian politician. The Superstar has over 50,000 fan clubs spread across TN, fans outnumbering the followers of any political party in the state. Once he took to Tamil filmdom, there was no looking back. Tamil Nadu warmly embraced him, never seeing him as an “outsider”, and Rajini has the admissibility across castes, communities and classes, and remains the icon of Tamil film industry.
The delirium following his announcement is a warning that the state politics is set for a makeover. The jitters, in the interim, have begun making rounds in all camps. As Rajini enters the ring, will he produce a political blockbuster or get knocked out?
At the moment, Rajinikanth has no political party, nor any transmitted agenda. Yet, he schemes to exercise his mass-appeal to win popular confidence. Also, the Superstar knows that style can only supplement, not supplant substance. If he underperforms, he will “quit in three years”. But, Tamil Nadu badly needs a redeemer. Will Rajini astound us? Await the main picture.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)