Rajinikanth’s political flop

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The actor’s plan to paradrop into the top post at Fort St George was a script destined to flop, reports Manoj Menon.

Rajinikanth is capable of doing many things on screen. He can survive an attack from 20 villains with rippling muscles and dodge bullets from an assault rifle. However, his political script turned out to be damp squib.

With a fan following across generations, the septuagenarian has held his audience captive on the fodder of escapism intertwined with a clever mix of subtle political messaging.

Capitalising on the political vacuum created by the death of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader J Jayalalithaa and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) stalwart K Karunanidhi, Rajinikanth found the timing right for his political innings.

However, his so called “spiritual politics” with strong Hindutva leanings found a natural ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The saffron party in turn saw a strong ally in the actor to make its presence in Tamil Nadu, where it has been rejected by the electorate repeatedly.

Rajinikanth provided an opportunity to reject Dravidian exclusivism and separatism, said political commentator and the actor’s friend S. Gurumurthy in an interview with The Hindu. Gurumurthy, the editor of popular Thuglaq magazine added that though AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran (MGR) and Rajinikanth are not alike, the impact of their entry into politics could be similar.

What led to the actor’s change of mind?

Health reasons attributed by the actor and the Covid-19 scare withstanding, it’s a known secret that India’s highest paid actor had undergone a kidney transplant in 2016. But what took Rajinikanth four years and half a dozen announcements since then about entering politics to bow out of the race just days ahead of his “grand plans”?

A conservative guess points towards… late realisation. Politics without a manifesto has no space in Indian politics. MGR and Karunanidhi, both closely associated with the film industry, were the byproducts of Dravidian politics led by political stalwarts like C N Annadurai and Periyar. Subsequently Jayalalithaa, MGR’s protégé, came to power after working closely in the grassroots slowly moving up the ladder to establish themselves as leaders.

On the contrary, Rajinikanth’s plan to paradrop into the top post at Fort St George — the seat of power in Tamil Nadu — was a script destined to flop. Sycophancy over stars in Tamil Nadu could well be a thing of the past.

With 80% literacy rate and ranked as the second richest state in India and third highest per capital among Indian states, Tamil Nadu is India’s engine of economic, manufacturing  and industrial growth.

What Tamil Nadu needs is politics based on a strong agenda of social justice and inclusive growth rather than politics scripted on the silver screen.

Superstar tantrums

The suspense over Rajinikanth’s impending political entry has been around for the last three decades. Interestingly, his comments are unlikely to be a decisive factor, as his statement against Jayalalithaa during the 1996 Assembly election boomeranged. His support to the BJP-AIADMK front during the 2004 Lok Sabha election failed to convince voters when the DMK-led combine won all the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

However, giving the actor his due, even as early as March 2020, he had given an indication that he was a reluctant political entrant.

He had said that he would not be the Chief Ministerial candidate of his proposed party. In October, he appeared to prepare his supporters for an exit confirming information about his fragile health condition contained in a letter attributed to him.

He, however, denied writing the letter. In subsequent meetings with Rajini Makkal Mandram (RMM) functionaries, he placed his health status before them. But throughout all this he was clear that this was a ‘now or never moment’ for political change in Tamil Nadu. Since he was ageing, he wanted to run an electoral sprint and not a marathon.

What next for the ageing hero?

Rajinikanth may have exited politics even without entering it, but he still has a major fan following with numbers which can make even some of his below par films rake in money for produces and distributors. His decision may have definitely hampered BJP’s plans to split votes in its favour. The DMK and AIADMK would both be relieved that they wouldn’t have to take on the popular actor. The biggest losers in the actor’s exit, however, could be Independents, who may have been maneuvering with major Dravidian parties for any post-poll tie-ups.

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