At long last, after several false starts in the last two decades, Rajinikanth, the Tamil superstar, has actually taken the plunge. On Sunday, the last day of 2017, he made the much-awaited declaration, ending long uncertainty about his real intention. “I will definitely enter politics. In the next State Assembly election my party will contest in all the 234 constituencies…” In the normal course, the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls are not due till 2021. But the Lok Sabha poll is set to be held in 2019 or before.
What will be his stance, whether he will field his own candidates or support the Modi-led BJP, or any other party, are questions that would be answered in the coming weeks and months. For now, let Tamil Nadu savour the birth of a spanking new party which promises to challenge the duopoly of the rival DMKs for nearly three decades. In a way, the timing of Rajinikanth’s entry into politics could not be better. The ruling AIADMK after the death of supreme leader Jayalalithaa is in the throes of an existentialist crisis, torn between rival factions led by the chief minister and deputy chief minister on the one side and Sasikala and her nephew on the other.
Given the role money plays in the electoral politics of Tamil Nadu, the official faction seems to be at a clear disadvantage, as testified by the recent victory of Dhinakaran in the R K Nagar by-poll, which was necessitated by the death of Jayalalithaa. The DMK too is not without its own problems. Though, the aging patriarch, M Karunanidhi, is in ill health, he has plumped for younger son, Stalin, as his political heir. This has not gone down well with Alagiri, the older son from Karunanidhi’s other wife.
The resulting vacuum in the political space in Tamil Nadu can be filled by Thalaivar (leader), as the Tamil cinema’s reigning super star is popularly called. Bear in mind that Tamil politics has always had a close link with the Tamil cinema. The founder of the DMK and the party’s first chief minister, late C N Annadurai, was a popular story and screenplay writer for films, using the platform to propagate his brand of Tamilian identity before plunging full time into Dravidian politics. His successor, M Karunanidhi, too, was a popular writer for films before he succeeded Annadurai as the State chief minister.
After the then superstar MG Ramachandran fell out with Karunanidhi and floated his own separate Anna DMK and defeated DMK in the assembly poll to become the State chief minister, the Tamil politics became a bipolar affair, with the Congress struggling to maintain a mere toehold after its stunning defeat in the 1967 poll. After MGR’s death, his long-time screen companion, Jayalalithaa Jayaraman, took charge of the AIDMK and successfully battled the DMK. In between, a couple of other lesser film stars have tried their luck at electoral politics, including the late Shivaji Ganeeshan, but without much success.
However, Kamal Haasan, another tall actor, who recently expressed a desire to join politics, has for some unknown reasons put his plans on hold. His pronouncedly anti-BJP fulminations ahead of the launch of his proposed party are bound to have attracted adverse notice in New Delhi. Or there could be some other factor which we might be unaware of. For the record, Haasan has welcomed Rajinikanath’s entry into politics. Given the flux the Tamil politics is in, Rajinikanth’s party offers a new alternative to the Tamil voter.
His promise to pursue ‘spiritual’ politics may sound confusing and vague, but his emphasis on ending ‘corruption and looting of the people’ underlines his cleansing mission, especially when the two rival DMK families have always competed with each other in establishing newer records of corruption and malfeasance. If the latest superstar to take to politics is able to rid Tamil Nadu of rampant corruption, he would have done a yeoman’s service to the people. When MGR left the DMK to float his own party, Karunanidhi sought to stop him, shouting from the house-tops that he was a Malayali. It did not prevent MGR from beating the DMK hands down in the polls.
Again, Karunandihi shouted that Jayalaliahtaa was not a Tamilian, but belonged to Karnataka. Now that Rajinikanth is set to challenge him, we can expect his rivals to shout aloud that he is a Maharashtrian, his real name being Shivajirao Gaikwad, who began his working life as a conductor in a Bangalore Roadways bus, but it is unlikely to dent the Thailavar’s popularity. Tamil superstars-turned-politicians are easily able to graft their celluloid personas on their politics. Interesting times ahead in Tamil Nadu politics.