Chennai: ‘Rajini style’ is the buzz-phrase among film buffs in Tamil Nadu, as the southern superstar Rajinikanth famous for his mannerisms on the silver screen. He has chosen to extend the same style regarding his entry into politics – keeping everybody guessing about his intentions. His fans, who have been clamouring “Will he…won’t he?” are now certain that the die has been cast.
During the five-day interaction with his fans last week which Rajini held after the lapse of a decade, he was under pressure from them to plunge into politics, by taking advantage of the political vacuum in the State since the passing away of AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa and with DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi remaining ineffective because of a terminal ailment. Though the superstar was initially unwilling to commit on their keenness, towards the close of the photo-opportunity session with the fans, he proclaimed: “It’s in God’s hands. As He commands I will act. He wanted me to be an actor and I have fulfilled that role with your unstinted patronage. If He assigns any new role to me I am duty bound to obey.” Over and above this remark he told his fans that in the event of his entering politics he would not allow seekers and people who saw a gold mine in politics. “Wait for the impending battle, and the day we have to fight the war, we will take care of it,” he declared in his valedictory message.
Taking the cue from this statement as a broad hint by him to enter the political arena, not only impartial observers but also politicians of every hue assert that Rajini has literally thrown the hat in the ring. Though outwardly political leaders welcome his entering politics, their nervousness about the prospect is perceptible. Only Anbumani Ramadas, former Union Health Minister in the NDA regime and president of the youth wing of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), has been forthright in his comment, “It is high time that the Tamil voter shed his or her support to celluloid heroes who have ruined the State economy for last few decades.”
For half a century Tamil Nadu has been under the thumb of either DMK or AIADMK, and there is, no doubt, a craving for change. But in the absence of a strong leader with a pan-TN appeal, who could fight for the legitimate needs of the State, voters have been choosing alternately one of the two Dravidian majors. National parties like the Congress, the CPI and the CPI(M) have lost their moorings and they are obliged to kowtow to DMK or AIADMK just to stay afloat in the State. Though it has an MP from Kanniyakumari in Union Minister for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan, the BJP is yet to get a foothold in Tamil politics, as it is branded as a communal party dominated by Hindi zealots. It has been sending signals to Rajini to take over the reins of party in TN, saying “our doors are always open to the superstar”.
The other parties like Vaiko’s Marumalarachi DMK, Vijayakanthi’s Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK), Dr.S. Ramadas’s PMK and Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruttaigal Katchi (VCK) have become fringe elements with limited appeal. Though a good orator and having an unsullied image, Vaiko has not been able to broaden his base despite taking up popular causes like ‘jallikattu’, Sri Lankan Tamils’ plight, environmental degradation, etc. Vijayakanth, too, frittered away the initial gains he had made by his mercurial behaviour. The PMK’s appeal is limited to the Vanniar community, while the VCK is a dalit outfit.
Against this background the Rajini fans see a good opportunity for their ‘Thalaivar’ to garner public support just as MGR could do in the 1970s. In the absence of a charismatic personality, they feel that the time is ripe for their hero to fill the gap. Observers, however, note that it would not be an easy task. MGR’s case was different, they point out. “MGR had a face value. DMK founder C.N. Annadurai used to say, ‘MGR is the USP (ultimate selling proposition) of our party.’ In fact, one of the factors that helped the DMK to seize power in 1967 was the widespread display all over the State during the election campaign of a poster carrying the image of MGR with his neck bandaged for the bullet injury he had sustained when another film star M.R. Radha had shot at him. The sympathy the poster had generated among the people, particularly women, gave a tremendous boost to the party’s victory chances in the poll. So when Karunanidhi, who succeeded Annadurai by virtue of MGR’s support, shabbily treated MGR in 1971, without a qualm of conscience, leading to his expulsion from the party and the matinee idol launched the Anna DMK – it was later christened as All-India ADMK – the popular support swung in favour of the latter. Can Rajini create such a phenomenal scenario? Further, MGR had to wait for six years to storm into Fort St. George,” say some observers.
The social media network has been agog with pro- and anti-Rajini comments over his possible entry into politics. The foes of Rajini are spitting venom against him, a non-Tamil. According to this group, only a Tamil should rule the State, but they have conveniently forgotten that the State has the history of having non-Tamil-origin CMs. When Karunanidhi traced the origin of MGR as a Malayali, the latter retorted: “Don’t forget that your ancestors were Telugus since you hail from the Kalavantula community.” When Kamaraj became the CM, EVR Periyar, who was himself of Kannadiga origin, hailed Kamaraj as the first pure Tamil to rule Tamil Nadu, pointing out that his predecessors Andhra Kesari T. Prakakasm Pantulu, Omandur Ramaswami Reddiyar, P. S. Kumaraswamy Raja and Rajaji were not of Tamil origin – in the height of the Andhra State agitation Rajaji once remarked that he could not be called anti-Andhra as his ancestors were from Guduru village near Machilipatnam and that he was the son-in-law of Andhra as his wife hailed from Lakshmipuram, near Kuppam! For this overenthusiastic group of Tamil puritans, even Jayalalithaa was not a Tamil as she was born in Mandya in Karnataka.
In his address to the fans, Rajini debunked the claim that he was an outsider and declared, “Let this non-sense stop. I am a pure Tamil. I am 67 years old and have spent 44 years in Tamil Nadu and was in Karnataka only for 23 years of my prime. Now I reveal to you that my ancestors were born and brought up in Krishnagiri. I have been the beneficiary of the Tamil people who have designated me as a superstar. Should I not repay my gratitude to them?”
Meanwhile, some extremist Tamil outfit staged a demonstration in front of Rajini’s house in Poes Garden and burnt his effigy. Not to be outdone, Rajini fans staged a protest against extremist elements. The superstar has been given extra security cover after these incidents.
The writer is a Senior Journalist and Prime Associate from Chennai