Rajinikanth: Can he change the dynamics of TN politics?

Published : Jan 12, 2018 08:23 am | By: M D Sridharan

Ever since superstar Rajinikanth announced his political entry, it has created ripples in the political circles of Tamil Nadu. Sure, his entry is bound to impact political parties in the state. With talks of BJP behind the move, even the two major Dravidian parties are keeping a close watch on the developments. However, the actor said he will float a party and contest next Assembly election. Can he achieve the exalted status in politics too as he has done in films or will it be a damp squib?

The long wait is over. Finally, Superstar Rajinikanth has put an end to all speculations about his political entry. Yes, he announced his willingness to take the plunge in to the world of politics at the final day of his fan meet at Chennai on December, 31,2017.

Film stars jumping in to the political bandwagon are not new to Tamil Nadu, which has a long history of close connection between film industry and politics.  Films and Politics are obviously intertwined in Tamil Nadu and always make a good cocktail.

Call it a boon or bane. Over the decades, the state has witnessed a long list of film stars endorsing the ideologies of various political parties or testing their own might on the political arena. In the process some have succeeded and made a name for themselves and some have paled in to oblivion.

But, today the political scenario in Tamil Nadu is vastly different from the days of M G R,   truly a trendsetter who made it big from cinema to politics and who every successful hero wants to emulate.  

Now, with both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, mega stars in their own right, decided to take the political plunge, both have garnered enough media limelight but in reality it is a tough question can they reach their goal as MGR did.

While Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth's political foray have remained the talk of the town and the media rightly going gung-ho about every move of them, let us not forget, actor Vijayakanth had also created similar ripples way back in 2005. When Vijayakanth launched Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), people readily voted for his party. The DMDK contested the 2006 assembly elections and went on to garner 10% of voters in the assembly and Vijayakanth became the “Opposition Leader” in the Tamil Nadu assembly by winining 29 of the 41 seats it contested ahead of DMK which was routed. In a short span of time, DMDK became the third largest party in the state.

But, the fact also remains that DMDK aligned with AIADMK in 2011. In 2016, it broke away from AIADMK alliance and aligned with “People’s Welfare Front”. 2016 saw a clear mandate for both AIADMK and DMK in which AIADMK created history by ruling for the second term after MGR garnering 134 seats and DMK 99. DMDK could not win a single seat in 2016 and today the party has lost its stature and is no more in the reckoning.

Ever since 'Superstar' Rajinikanth hinted at a political plunge to “clean the rot in the system”, fans and observers have been waiting for a confirmation.  Alas, he took his own sweet time, unlike Kamal Hassan who jumped the gun. But, after his announcement, rumours are thick and fast that he is doing so at the behest of BJP.  But the actor said he will float a party and contest next Assembly election. The moot point is that can he achieve the exalted status in politics too as he has done in films or will it be a damp squib?

Rajinikanth and Politics

Rajinikanth himself has gone on record saying that he is not new to politics. The intent to test the political water has been there in him, since 1996.  But, he has not been consistent.  In 1996, he openly defied J Jayalalithaa, the then Chief Minister. At that time Moopanar, the veteran and Congress leader quit the Congress and floated Tamil Manila Congress (TMC). There were also reports which suggest Rajinikanth played a crucial role in firming up the alliance between DMK and TMC opposing AIADMK.  Rajinikanth’s famous rhetoric - “Even God can’t save Tamil Nadu if the AIADMK is elected again”- still echoes in the political corridors of Tamil Nadu.  Many attribute his remarks for the landslide victory of DMK-TMC combine.

Soon after, he went back to films and did not focus on politics. In the ensuing 1998 parliamentary polls, AIADMK under Jayalalithaa staged a good comeback. In 2002, he once again hinted about his political journey in tune with the release of his film “Baba”. He also issued a statement that “Baba” will be his last film. So, the expectations were very high about his political foray.

Later, in 2004 he had a tiff with S Ramadoss, founder of Patali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and who criticized the actor for misguiding the youths through his on-screen smoking. Rajinikanth announced his fans would campaign against the PMK. But PMK swept the seats it contested. It was an indication of his waning popularity.  Since then, Rajinikanth has not openly endorsed any political party or leader.

In the meantime, his relations with the AIADMK improved and he was even on good terms with Jayalalithaa. He changed his stance and pledged his vote for the BJP-AIADMK combine in 2004 because of BJP’s stand on river interlinking, which he said would solve the country’s drinking water problems.  After Jayalalithaa’s death in December,2016, he publicly praised her achievements and even rued that he had 'hurt' her back in 1996.

 One thing about Rajinikanth is that like Jayalalithaa, he too never shied away from his belief in God. Rajinikanth was even more philosophical and said it would be “foolish to think that one is successful in politics due to capability, experience and hard work. It’s all a question of time and circumstances. If the time is not right, nothing can help”.


Can he change the dynamics of TN politics?

Ending the suspense on December 31st,2016, finally Rajinikanth has made up his mind to enter into politics and said he will launch his own party. "I am joining politics for sure," the 67-year-old actor announced amid thunderous applause from fans, on the last day of the year 2017 at Chennai.  Reminiscing his famous punch dialogue from his mega hit film “Arunachalam” that goes on like this: “God Orders and Arunachalam Executes”, Rajinikanth  quoted a sloka from the Bhagwad Gita, which stresses on the importance of doing one's duty and leaving the rest to the Lord,  and declared that his entering politics is  the matter of compulsion of time.

When he addressed his fans at Chennai, he said, ""My politics will be based on spirituality, not on religion or caste." He added, “I am not entering politics for post or position. If I had wanted it, I would have got it in 1996 itself. If at the age of 45 I had not aspired for that, why would I do it at the age of 68? "

Though he has finally decided to take the political plunge, the super star seems to be still carrying the hesitancy baggage. By announcing his intent to contest only in the next assembly polls which will be held only in the summer of 2021, many feel that he is trying to buy more time. Moreover, he has not yet announced the name of his party, its flag and its ideologies.

While his fans are cheered to the tilt over his political journey and his plans to launch a party and field candidates in all the 234 assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, the reaction of the public has been mixed. While, it is true that a majority of the people of Tamil Nadu want a change and wishfully think and scout for a better alternative to the two Dravidian parties, similarly, there is a sizable number of population who are against another film star ruling the state as already the state has seen five Chief Ministers from the film industry. But, it remains an inescapable truth in Tamil Nadu that both film and politics co-exists and will influence each other.

Some also point out his age that he is already 68 and he has not been in the pink of his health. So, by the time the assembly polls are held in the state in normal course, he will cross 70 and it remains to be seen how active he can remain.  Since Rajinikanth is known for his Hindutva sentiments and his inclination towards religion and spirituality, many come to the conclusion that he will side with BJP.  Further, Rajinikanth has hardly spoken his mind on public issues and always prefer to keep his views private. Very rarely, he comes out in open like that famous 1996 statement: "Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu".

Many believe that because of the lack of credible alternative for DMK and AIADMK in the state, the two major Dravidan parties continue to dominate over five decades by occupying the ruling and opposition status alternatively. Under such a scenario, Rajinikanth’s entry has already created ripples in the corridors of power. Many feel, the time is ripe for him to make a dent considering the huge vacuum left by the demise of Jayalalithaa and the age-related inactivation of Karunanidhi. Moreover, political analysts point out that Rajinikanth stand to gain because of the fact that today AIADMK stands highly fragmented due to infightings and within DMK also there is simmering on Stalin’s leadership as not many DMK leaders place him on the same stature as his father. Moreover, Stalin drew lot of flak for the way he handled RK Nagar bypoll in which DMK came a distant third and even lost the deposit.

In addition to his existing fan base, for many people Rajinikanth emerges as a natural choice as many people consider him as a new credible face to bank on. Rajinikanth may emerge as a force that can potentially alter the political equation in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, expert’s points out that he may have a huge fan base, but it will not be adequate to break the shackles and stamp his supremacy over the Dravidian parties as film glamour and charisma alone cannot be the recipe for success in politics.

But, unlike in the past this time the superstar seems to be determined to take on the bull by its horns. He has already started to integrate his fan clubs and instructed them to organise membership drives across the state. He has even launched a website and a mobile app for the purpose of registration. Further, by stating that he is looking forward to provide a ”spiritual politics”, Rajinikanth  has straightaway won the hearts of a sizable population of anti-DMK who were annoyed by their atheist roots and  anti-Hindu activities.

Still the veteran actor may not be able to present a winning alternative as his opponents will gear up to attack his non-Tamilian identity and try to instigate the people on the basis of linguistic and ethnic values. In a state that is deep rooted in linguistic and ethnic values, it is a great challenge for the superstar to overshadow his critics on his non - Tamil roots and create a formidable vote bank that can defeat the Dravidian parties and emerge as the major force.

It is no secret that BJP is wooing Rajinikanth and would like to piggyback on him to strengthen its base in Tamil Nadu. Banking on the sentiments of Hindutva and ably supported by BJP, Rajinikanth looks forward to change the dynamics of Tamil Nadu politics. It remains to be seen whether Rajinikanth will succeed or not.



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