It’s been a little over two decades since the time that people thought the stage was set for Rajinikanth to enter politics.
The actor perhaps thinks time is ripe for him to do that now. He has the necessary support base, and can influence the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Naan eppo varuven, eppadi varuvennu yarukkum theriyathu. Eppo varunamo appo correcta varuvenl.
This a famous dialogue by Tamil actor Rajinikanth in the film Muthu. Roughly translated, the dialogue means: “No one knows when I will come, how I will come. When the time comes, I will correctly.” (This was interpreted in 1995 as his response to his critics who were wondering when he would enter politics.)
It has taken over two decades and perhaps now the moment beckons for Rajinikanth. The buzz doing the rounds in the political circles of Tamil Nadu is that the Tamil film megastar will first float a forum in his name and then after Pongal (14 January), he will launch a political party. The fact that Rajinikanth says he wants to talk a lot means he is set to enter politics, say political observers. And he couldn’t have thought of a better time to launch himself in the arena, in whatever way he plans.
A look at the path so far
Some are convinced that Rajinikanth missed a golden moment in 1996 to enter politics. At that time, people in Tamil Nadu were fed up with the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government headed by J Jayalalithaa. People had become disillusioned with the AIADMK government in 1995 after the lavish wedding of Sudhakaran, who was adopted by Jayalalithaa as her son. Popular people like Rajinikanth were open in their criticism of Jayalalithaa and her government.
Towards the end of 1995, Sun TV interviewed Rajinikanth and the interview was telecast on two consecutive Sundays during prime time. The whole of Tamil Nadu was glued to television sets, wanting to know what Rajinikanth had to say on politics. The interview ended with the actor almost promising an early entry into the political space.
After that, not much was heard about his plans to enter politics. Before the 1996 elections to the Tamil Nadu assembly, Rajinikanth made an acerbic comment on Jayalalithaa’s government:
If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even God cannot save Tamil Nadu.
The elections saw the Congress party breaking up in Tamil Nadu with leaders like the late G K Moopanar and P Chidambaram launching the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the TMC formed a pre-poll alliance and swept the elections, leaving just four seats for the AIADMK of the 233 at stake. One of the senior TMC leaders, who came away from the Congress along with Moopanar and was a minister in the Deve Gowda cabinet, on seeing the public response to their campaign in Coimbatore district, said: “Had we known that this would be the response, we (TMC) could have gone alone, possible with Rajnikanth’s support!” These were things that happened overtly.
Rao’s overture to Rajinikanth
Covertly, something else also happened. Then prime minister, the late P V Narasimha Rao, called one of the leaders advising Rajinikanth and sought the actor’s support for the Congress. Rao wanted Rajinikanth to, at least, campaign for the Congress. The star didn’t bite the bait since he, according to the leader, was under “domestic” pressure to not enter politics. Rajinikanth was told he would have to lose all his wealth earned from acting and with children growing up at home, it wasn’t a wise idea to dabble in politics.
In 2004, the actor made yet another political statement. He said he would vote for the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as he was honest and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was striving to link major rivers in the country – an issue that carries some weight in Tamil Nadu since it depends on states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh for water. The statement had little effect with the people of Tamil Nadu voting for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Ever since, he maintained a low profile, before he began considering his political strategy early this year.
A few things have probably forced Rajinikanth to consider entering politics. First, the Dravidian parties are at the receiving end. The AIADMK is on a path of decline. Though T T V Dinakaran might have won the R K Nagar constituency by-elections overcoming AIADMK and DMK, he will unlikely be able to muster a majority on his own in Tamil Nadu if the state goes to polls. O Panneerselvam and E Palaniswami can do little to get the public’s confidence, especially when R K Nagar electorates have registered their anger so loudly.
There is no one in the AIADMK now who can wield influence over the crores of the party’s supporters. The DMK has been unable to cash in on the problems in the AIADMK. The DMK working president M K Stalin is often being compared with his illustrious father, M Karunanidhi, who is no more active as he was until October 2016. (Has the BJP succeeded in its strategy to weaken the DMK by propping up the Edappadi Palaniswami government?)
Rajinikanth, observers say, had all along been hesitant to take on Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa because he didn’t want to hurt them. With Jayalalithaa gone and Karunanidhi ailing, the actor perhaps thinks time is ripe for him to enter politics. Though a section of the people feels that Rajinikanth had lost the plot when he did not take the call in 1996, another view is that he still commands a good following. Rajinikanth’s fan clubs are spread all over Tamil Nadu and can match the Dravidian parties in its reach. An observer says Rajinikanth could command at least 20 per cent of the votes that could be cast in the coming elections. A 20 per cent vote share is huge compared to how parties like the Congress, the BJP, Pattali Makkal Katchi, Marumalarchi DMK of Vaiko and Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam of another popular Tamil actor, Vijayakanth, have been faring at the hustings all these years.
Tamil Nadu is now looking for a new political force, given the rampant corruption in the state and people thinking it is their right to demand cash for votes. Vaiko had his moment in 1996, but he lost out subsequently with some false moves. Vijayakanth, too, got going initially before he was made inconsequential in the May 2016 assembly elections. A new political force is always welcome in Tamil Nadu, but its future is dependent on the subsequent moves. Compared to M G Ramachandran (MGR) and Jayalalithaa, who always appeared in public with make-up, Rajinikanth is seen as a simple person. He has made appearances in public without any make-up. This is a different approach and can perhaps work in his favour. A 6-7 per cent Kannada speaking people in Tamil Nadu could cast its lot with him.
It’s a political vacuum out there in Tamil Nadu, which Rajinikanth can definitely fill. There are two things that he would have to be wary of, however. One, has he lost a generation’s support by delaying his entry into politics? There is a world of difference between 1996 and 2017 and the question is, can the superstar command the same support he commanded back then? Second, can Rajinikanth impress the youth of Tamil Nadu? Youth below 30 years of age make up 25 per cent of the voters in Tamil Nadu. Can he get their support?
Rajinikanth may not have the money power that the Dravidian parties command. But voters in Tamil Nadu can, if required, rise above money, religion and caste. For example, in 2011, despite getting money from the DMK, voters cast their lot with the AIADMK. Rajinikanth has the base support that is required. For him to make it to the top, it all boils down to how he will gain the trust of the youth and what message and medium he uses to get his views across. His entry into politics should sound sweet for the BJP. Rajinikanth won’t be joining the national party, but he may have a role to play in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.