2018 Is Not 1972, And Rajinikanth Is Not MGR

by Vikramaditya - Jan 4, 2018 12:36 PM +05:30 IST
2018 Is Not 1972, And Rajinikanth Is Not MGRRajinikanth fans doing aarti in front of his cut-out on the release of Kabali at Matunga Murugan Temple on in Mumbai, India. (Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • Tamil Nadu politics has come a long way from 1972 and the days of MGR.

    The people of Tamil Nadu have changed and it will show in 2018, especially to Rajinikanth who sets off with a political debut.

There is a churn happening in Tamil Nadu politics, a long-awaited one – one to separate the wheat from the chaff. Good or bad, it is coming to a head. The process will help weed out a lot of the chaff – for the good of the state and its people.

Rajinikanth’s announcement of a political entry has set the wheels of this separation in motion. In the coming days and over the next few months, the people of Tamil Nadu will witness several spectacular events high on melodrama, culminating in a selection of the best for the future of the state.

The multitude of forces in the state’s political arena, many of whom are left with very little energy and momentum, will be sieved by the people so that only the best, or a combination of the best, remain. Rajinikanth and his political entry will shake off the established political system.

Rajinikanth has been waiting in the wings since 1996, since he first sent out signals of his interest to join politics. His entry could have been well-timed had it been in 1996, soon after his famous political dialogue in his movie the previous year, Muthu: “Naan eppa varuven, eppadi varuvennu yarukkum theriyadhu, aana varavendiya neratthil correct aga varuven (Nobody knows when would I come, how would I come, but I would be there at the right time)”. There was, then, a political space and the need for a man of his stature in Tamil politics, before the Congress decided to go with All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the 1996 election. One faction of the Congress was keen on contesting the assembly election with “Thalaivar” as the face of the party. But things did not quite turn out that way.

His political weight was clearly proven in the 1996 assembly election in which his famous line, “If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even God cannot save Tamil Nadu”, contributed to the victory of the alliance formed by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) floated by veteran Congress leader G K Moopanar after a fall-out with the then Congress prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, who decided to go with AIADMK and blocked the political entry of the superstar. And that was the last chance of the Congress to revive its fortunes in the state, and of Rajinikanth to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

Since then, much water has flown under the bridge in Cooum River and certainly in Cauvery too. Meanwhile, Rajinikanth’s political ambitions were kept alive through his movies with the help of punch lines that could be described as carrying political undertones.

His political significance has also taken a beating and come to a stage where his fans and the people of Tamil Nadu have begun doubting his caliber in the political arena. His entry into politics, in the meantime, has become challenging because the political space in the state has been dominated by Jayalalithaa for the last 20 years.

The dominance of Jayalalithaa in state politics was so clear that the fringe parties that cropped up during the period, like Pattali Makkal Katchi, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, and the left parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) all fell by the wayside. The only ray of hope during this time was the party formed by Captain Vijayakanth, namely Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which too eclipsed in the 2016 assembly election; its fortunes went down to 2.4 per cent of the vote share, from 7.8 per cent in the previous elections.

Given the overarching image and towering personality of Puratchi Thalaivi in the state politics, it was a forgone conclusion that no one including Rajinikanth would be able to make a dent in her ability to capture the mind share and vote share of the Tamil people. And, therefore, it was wise for “Thalaivar” to keep away.

But the sudden opportunity created by the demise of Jayalalithaa has started affecting the dynamics of Tamil politics. The R K Nagar by-election has proven that O Panneerselvam-Edappadi Palaniswami (OPS-EPS) combo is not a force to reckon with, money power continues to sway the electorate, DMK is not a counter-force (unless it is proven that the party has shifted votes en block to TTV Dinakaran to defeat the OPS-EPS camp) and other political parties like the BJP, Congress and fringe parties have been marginalised.

However, that may not be the case in fact. R K Nagar is not a fully faithful reflection of the swirly thoughts and seesaw minds of 7.5 crore Tamil people in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa’s demise and the subsequent developments. Their minds can only be measured through a state-wide election, which will happen during the next assembly or parliamentary elections, whichever comes earlier.

In the meantime, it is to be noted that the average Tamil voter has become wiser over the last few decades. Literacy rate in Tamil Nadu has undergone a transformation in the last three decades and stood at over 80 per cent by 2011, which is expected to reach almost 90 per cent in the next census. Thanks to the efforts of Jayalalithaa, female literacy has gone up from 30 per cent at the time that MGR floated AIADMK in 1971, to 74 per cent in 2011. Not just that, Tamil Nadu is very close to neighbouring Kerala in most of the Human Development Index indicators.

This has a huge impact on the thought process of the people of Tamil Nadu. Educated women today are more liberated than their mothers were three decades ago. They depend very little on their husbands now, also thanks to an array of social welfare measures rolled out by “Puratchi Thalaivi” over the last two decades. Women self-help groups, entrepreneurship and micro-credit system at the village levels have all empowered women. One of the catalysts of this empowerment was the women’s protest against state-run liquor outlets and distribution system called TANSI. This comes from their realisation that most of the men are not contributing to the family and are wasting their earning on booze and thereby disturbing the harmony back home after consuming alcohol.

This was next to unimaginable three decades ago, in a highly patriarchal society that kept their women under highly submissive barricades.

When M G Ramachandran (MGR) launched his political party by splitting DMK in 1972, Tamil society was very addicted to hero worship and the silver screen. Over the last four decades, the silver screen has expanded to TV sets and then to smartphones with internet. Though there are fan clubs for various actors, most of its members look for financial gain by associating with the clubs. Today, fan clubs have to either find resources or depend on the actor for cash to sustain the club and its activities. This is a departure from the seventies and eighties, when fan clubs would be spontaneous and voluntary. The dynamics has changed now to the extent that fan clubs have become a distant clone of political parties, save fighting in elections.

It has also become an accepted fact that money changes hands during elections. Votes are being brazenly bought at booth levels, head by head, during elections. This was also a response of the electorate to the corrupt political and administrative system in the state. Their thought process is that if people must pay bribes for everything from village and panchayat office upwards, why not accept money for votes from the same political leaders who are expected to create a corruption-free administrative system? People have no hesitation in accepting money for votes and conceding that they have taken it. It is also a departure from the past when voters were ‘duped’ to vote for a candidate after they were made to believe in ideologies, promises and fan following.

Therefore, Tamil Nadu politics has come a long way from 1972 and the days of MGR. It is unwise to think that the people of Tamil Nadu will behave in 2018 the way they did in 1972, when MGR launched AIADMK or when Jayalalithaa took over the party after a fight with Janaki Ramachandran. So Thalaivar really needs to watch out.

Well, what about the main alternative, DMK? During all these demographic turmoils since the seventies, the only party that could keep its cadres somewhat intact is DMK. However, what it could keep intact is its cadres, not supporters and sympathisers. Various internal fissures such as those caused by the Alagiri issue in south Tamil Nadu and 2G scam, among others, have dented the reputation of the party as well. The passing of Karunanidhi era has made a lot of traditional party supporters look for greener pastures as well.

That leaves the current political space in Tamil Nadu highly fragmented. No political party or group would be able to garner a vote share of more than 20 per cent and many, including Rajinikanth’s party, would end up with less than 10 per cent votes in a multi-cornered, fair and transparent election, if it is conducted without any scope for the money-for-vote arrangement.

This would keep the field wide open for one of two things to happen – effective rainbow coalition and a money-for-vote arrangement. Of course, the second must be pursued from outside the radar of the Election Commission.

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