Rajini’s late and timid entry into politics will make no difference in Tamil Nadu.
In reel life, Tamil Superstar Rajinikanth could take decisions in a jiffy, jumping out of a helicopter or catching a bullet fired at him even as he flips a cigarette in the air. But in political real life, he has been in ultra slow motion and very diffident and cautious in taking a political decision. In movies, he was known to build up a terrifying suspense and now, 24 after years of dilly-dallying, Rajinikanth ended the suspense by taking a late plunge into the murky waters of Tamil Nadu politics.
He is due to launch his political party on December 31 and then decide on an alliance. The joke in Tamil Nadu is that ‘Rajinikanth first takes the gold medal and then the race starts.’ But he has made it clear that his party would contest all the Assembly seats in Tamil Nadu in the early 2021 polls.
Rajini chose a Thursday to deliver the news about his decision to enter politics. It will be on another Thursday (Dec 31) that he will be launching his political party. A man who believes in astrology (like NTR, KTR, Yediyurappa and others), Rajini considers Thursday as an auspicious day.
“With the massive support of people, we will capture power and provide a corruption-free and transparent government that will be above caste, creed and religion. Change. We will change everything. Miracle and wonder will happen. If not now, then never,” Rajinikanth said in a tweet announcing his political yatra.
This dialogue may sell in movies amid thunderous clapping, cat calls and whistles, not on the hard and tough ground of politics.
His body language while announcing the move to launch a political outfit betrayed a lack of confidence. The flamboyant Rajini was missing. It looked as though he was being pushed into politics by his fans. The rumour is that he wanted to settle down in the US and make occasional trips to Chennai. But all that has changed. It is clear that the script of his political adventure will not be in his hands. All the cadres are his fans, but all the fans may not be his cadre.
And Rajini is 70 – too late to launch a political party. Moreover, there are no tall leaders who can take over from Rajini.
One reason for his lack of confidence is the big void left behind by the absence of journalist and actor Cho Ramasamy. During his speech in 2017, Rajinikanth had specifically said that he missed Cho’s presence. He had said that he would have had more confidence and support if the former Tughlaq editor had been by his side.
Unlike seasoned politicians, Rajini is a different material. In 1973 when M G Ramachandran rebelled against M Karunanidhi and formed ADMK, it should be remembered that he took with him a chunk of the DMK’s frontline leaders and grassroot workers. In the case of Rajini, that advantage is absent. He will have no frontline leaders who have been hardened in political fire.
MGR’s fan clubs, the Mandrams, named after his films ‘Urimai Kural’ and ‘Naalai Namadhe,’ formed the backbone of his new party. This is why three years later, ADMK swept the 1977 assembly election.
Against MGR’s Mandrams, Rajini has Makkal Mandrams — a loosely put-together outfit packed with politically inexperienced fans. And it should be remembered that even the great MGR had three years at his disposal to build a party ahead of the polls; Rajini hardly has five months.
The question now is will actor Rajinikanth, who will turn 70 soon, repeat the MGR magic? Or even replicate the success of N T Rama Rao, who floated Telugu Desam in 1982 and defeated the Congress within a year.
That is very doubtful. Rolling out a political party is no easy task and contesting an election five months later much less. His fans say that he is known to work out miracles. Really? Such miracles rarely happen in politics.
One more factor. MGR and NTR took the decision to plunge into politics on the spur of the movement. Rajini took 24 years. Rajini is at lightning speed and full of life when it comes to bashing enemies in movie scenes, but in political real life he is dead slow. Why? There could be two factors: unlike MGR and NTR, he lacks confidence; secondly, having tasted success as an invincible man in movies, he does not like to face defeat and wants to preserve his image. It should be remembered that the versatile actor always stuck to the plot in which he alone is the focus of the film — in about a hundred of 165 movies.
Rajini should have taken the plunge into politics soon after Jayalalitha’s demise or at least a year ago. Today, he is facing health issues and is afraid to campaign openly fearing the Coronavirus. To overcome that, plans are afoot to depend on 3D Holographic projection technology where over 20 Rajinikanth’s would walk on the streets of Tamil Nadu.
That’s fine and a novelty, but people would want to see Rajinikanth in flesh and blood when he steps into politics. Incidentally, the Superstar’s computer-animated Kochadaiiyaan, directed by his daughter Soundarya, flopped because Rajini was not in flesh and blood.
Coming back to politics, it must be admitted that as part of the change, Rajini has promised a clean, transparent and spiritual politics. The last part is important. The DMK is known for its atheist leanings. DMK leader Stalin refused to receive the holy ashes in a temple. People who believe in god are moving towards the AIADMK and BJP. The BJP’s Vel Yatra must be seen in this context – to woo the traditional Hindu community. And Rajini too wants to be seen as pro-Hindu and God-fearing.
If Rajini is able to market his spiritual politics (whatever it means) well, then the actor’s political foray might stunt the growth of the saffron party in TN. His political ideologies revolving around spiritualism and nationalism will make a dent not only in the BJP’s vote bank but also in the AIADMK’s.
His exposition on spiritual politics fits him perfectly to oppose the anti-God and anti-Hindu DMK, of which he is likely to emerge as the principal challenger.
The DMK is realising this folly. While Stalin’s wife is a regular temple visitor, her son Uhayanidhi Stalin went out of the way to be seen in a temple recently. It may be recalled that DMK’s earlier avatar – the DK – worshipped Ravana because he defeated a Hindu god Lord Ram. But soon DK realised that Ravana was a Brahmin and that he was a great devotee of Lord Siva. So, the party promptly dumped Ravana into the sea of oblivion.
Apart from spiritual politics, the Superstar’s biggest challenge will be in choosing the ideal partners to face the election. Pressure from the BJP has been immense and the AIADMK and Kamal Hassan is close behind Rajini’s heels for a tie-up. In all likelihood, the actor may initiate talks with PMK and several fringe caste outfits.
The actor is concerned on the possibility of losing the Muslim, Christian and dalit votes. Muslims and Christians have been traditionally with the DMK. Nothing is going to change that. But Rajini has a huge following among Dalits and the poor.
So, what will be the Rajini effect. It is well known that after 10 years of rule, there is a huge anti-incumbency factor in play. In normal circumstances, this anti-incumbency votes should have gone to the DMK’s kitty. But now, Rajini may take that big chunk and the AIADMK will only be happy about it.
It is worthwhile to recall the 1973 Dindigul parliamentary poll, which brought about a major shift and left a deep and continuing impact on Tamil Nadu. In the Dindigul by-election, the anti-DMK votes that routinely went to the Congress till then, were mopped up by the AIADMK. Similarly, anti-Congress votes drawn by the DMK till then, went to the AIADMK instead.
It must be admitted that there is a lot of expectation on Rajini’s political party and there is a sizable population that wants an alternative to the Dravidian parties. One should also factor in Sasikala who is likely to be released from a jail in Bengaluru in January.
The prediction that Rajini would make a huge impact comes with a caveat. This is possible only if Rajinikanth is projected as Chief Minister face. What he said earlier about not wanting to be Chief Minister needs to be re-examined.
Whether he is projected as CM or not, Rajini may bring back the cult of personality-based politics in Tamil Nadu. Towering leaders MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa dominated Tamil Nadu politics. Their departure led to a marked shift of elections from personality clashes to inter-party battles. Rajini may reverse this trend as his personality towers over all others, thus re-introducing the personality factor in politics, with no one matching his stature to counter him.
Though a third front has not been successful in Tamil Nadu, the two Dravidian arch-rivals are certainly rattled about Rajinikanth’s announcement. It is pertinent that in 1996, a one-liner – ‘only god can save this state’ — from Rajinikanth saw the defeat of Jayalalithaa and catapulted the DMK to power.
Will that happen again? Maybe not, but one thing is for sure: the Super Man, Super Cop, Super Robot, Super NRI may have set the screen and the box office on fire. But in politics, Thalaivar is likely to be a lion without teeth or power to set the political box office on fire. Far from being the Super King, he may end up as not even becoming a kingmaker.