Actor Rajinikanth taking a principled stand on the abrogation of Article 370 has left the Congress and DMK on the back foot in Tamil Nadu.
For the first time since January 2017, Tamil film actor Rajinikanth has put the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) on the back foot with his stand on the abrogation of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir state. Apart from Congress and some other opposition parties, the DMK has been very vocal against the abrogation of Article 370.
DMK convened an all-party on 11 August and urged the Centre to put on hold the implementation of the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act until assembly elections were held there. The party and its allies, took cover in the argument that what happened in Jammu and Kashmir could happen to other states too.
But what the DMK, Congress and their allies didn’t expect was Rajinikanth’s statement supporting abrogation of Article 370 the very next day.
Speaking at an organised for the release of Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu’s book Listening, Learning & Leading, the superstar praised the government’s strategy on Jammu and Kashmir.
He compared Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Lord Krishna and Arjuna in their strategy to abrogate Article 370.
Speaking about the Home Minister, he said: “My heartful (sic) congratulations to your Mission Kashmir operations. The way you conducted it, hats off! Especially, the speech you delivered in Parliament, fantastic. Now, people will come to know who he is - Amit Shah. I am happy about that. So, Amit Shahji and Modiji is like Krishna and Arjuna combination.”
The statement left particularly the DMK and Congress unnerved.
The Tamil Nadu Congress committee, reacting to the superstar’s statement, hit out at him and dubbed Modi and Shah as “Duryodhana” and “Shakuni”.
DMK IT wing chief and its assembly representative from central Madurai, P Thiaga Rajan, in his called the actor “morally bankrupt, intellectually challenged and pseudo-Hindu”. The leader, in his tweet, was praising the statement of another Tamil Nadu actor Vijay Sethupathi, who had termed the abrogation of Article 370 as “undemocratic”.
Even before people in Tamil Nadu could wake up to the unfolding scenario, Rajinikanth made his stand clear at an impromptu meet with the media in front of his residence at Poes Garden in Chennai.
Later, defending his 12 August statement, he termed the handling of the Kashmir issue as a masterstroke or “rajathanthiram” (diplomatic coup when roughly translated) by Modi and Shah. He then urged politicians in Tamil Nadu not to politicise the issue.
According to Rajinikanth, Kashmir is the gateway for terrorists to the country and it necessitated a strong action from the government.
“Kashmir is a home for terrorists and extremists. To impose curfew in Kashmir and to pass the reorganisation bill in the Rajya Sabha first, where the BJP does not have a majority, was a rajathanthiram," he said.
To add to DMK woes, its spokesman A Saravanan said: “Kashmir was not an integral part of India” during a Republic TV . This led to Republic TV founder and host Arnab Goswami slamming DMK and forcing the spokesman to walk out of the debate.
The statement and subsequent walkout attracted widespread criticism of the DMK’s stand on the Kashmir issue.
Rajinikanth’s statement and responses seemed to be measured in contrast to his fellow actor Kamal Haasan, the founder of Makkal Neethi Maiam party. Haasan has been critical of the move to abrogate Article 370.
Rajinkanth’s nuanced stand also comes at a time when he is preparing to launch his party.
His statement has been welcomed and lauded in general, with many on social media hitting out at the DMK and its allies for opposing the abrogation of Article 370.
The critics point out how a person from Tamil Nadu died in stone-pelting in Kashmir in May last year. “At that time, you need the Centre to take action. But now you call this action unconstitutional?” questioned a critic.
Tamil Nadu is witnessing some subtle changes after the elections to the Lok Sabha in which DMK and its allies won 38 of the 39 seats at stake. The symptoms of these changes include the results of the election to the Vellore Lok Sabha seat which the DMK won two weeks ago by a narrow margin of 8,000 votes.
Even though Rajinikanth has signed up for a couple of movies to act, the view is that he will launch his own party earlier next year. The actor has made it clear that he would enter politics in time for the next assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, due in 2021.
In order to keep himself in the limelight, Rajinikanth has been raising key issues. He recently supported fellow actor Suriya for his views on the draft National Educational Policy which ruffled feathers of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
But the statement on Kashmir makes it clear that he would be a politician who would have the country’s welfare as his priority.
More importantly, it has forced the DMK to warn party leaders not to make any “unwanted comments” on Jammu and Kashmir without the permission from top leadership.