How with the Periyar controversy, Rajinikanth has won the first round

Rajini’s fans are overjoyed that their star is finally taking a stand and is sticking his neck out, rather than buckling under pressure.

With Rajinikanth it is really difficult to know whether he unwittingly lands himself in controversies or whether there is some well thought out intent behind his statements. Or, is it that expectations are so high about the actor that whatever he says is discussed threadbare to gauge his intentions; in the unending guessing game on Rajinikanth that is played out in Tamil Nadu.

Rajinikanth, in an effort to be pleasing to everyone, is on a perpetual balancing act. He says something, goes out and says something else, and then clarifies it, which in turn causes more confusion. It all gives the impression that he can’t stick his neck out.

What he really meant to say is for some political commentators who claim a special friendship with him to interpret him and they say there is nothing ‘saffron’ about him. He is just a good friend of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and admires their commitment and energy. They also say he sees Rahul Gandhi in a positive light and that was the reason why during the Congress leader’s resignation, he said Rahul should stay and “prove he can do it”. What it really means is that he could go either way, and it will all be decided during the polls, and that all options are open and on the table.

Rajinikanth is now in the eye of a storm for his statement referring to Dravida Kazhagam leader Periyar. Periyar is considered a Dravidian icon beyond reproach in Tamil Nadu, and any criticism of him is enough for Dravidian parties to close ranks.

Periyar is not new to Rajinikanth. His 2002 film Baba, which is considered to be the nearest to any philosophical/ideological statement by Rajinikanth, also has a reference to Periyar. In it, Rajini plays an atheist who finds he is a reincarnation of a great saint from the Himalayas. The film has a lyric with a reference to Periyar becoming Rajaji. “It’s a miracle how Periyar turned into Rajaji”, meaning an atheist has turned into a believer.

Dravida Kazhagam took objection to the song even before the film was released and Rajinikanth was quick to regret and said the words would be blanked out in the movie. But that was almost 18 years ago, and Rajini has grown in stature and political ambition.

Now, Rajinikanth has touched a raw nerve in Tamil Nadu politics with his reference to Periyar’s denigration of Hindu gods. His fans are overjoyed that their star is finally taking a stand and is sticking his neck out, rather than buckling under pressure. Rajini is now being seen by his fans as strong, and not the weakling that they feared he would turn out to be.

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