Of Rajini, Sasikala and BJP in Tamil Nadu elections

It is not the absence of Muthuvel Karunanidhi or bête noire Jayaram Jayalalithaa that cast a shadow over the recently held elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly, results for which will be out on 2 May. For, Tamil Nadu had voted in the last general elections in 2019 without the presence of Puratchi Thalaivi and Kalaignar who had vacated the political arena by then, in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Instead, it is the absence of two individuals who had checked out of politics before even checking in and a national “masculine” political party which in the run-up to the elections had threatened to overrun the Dravidian fortress and raise the saffron flag at Fort St George, which houses the state secretariat, that was in focus.

For the past decade or so, Tamil Nadu has been discussing the “imminent” arrival of “superstar” Rajinikanth on the Tamil political scene. Egged on by a section of the media and a frenzied fandom, Rajini too played to the gallery, talking from time to time of cleansing the political stables of Tamil Nadu in a “spiritual” way, the meaning of which remains an enigma. It caught on, with everyone almost taking for granted the launch of a political party by a divine star who is not a Tamil by birth, a la “varatthan” (outsider) M.G. Ramachandran who floated the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972, an act that caught the imagination of the common Tamil on the street. While not at the level of MGR, who had to face the wrath of Tamil fanatics let loose by a vengeful DMK leadership, Rajini, too, had to face attacks from fringe elements claiming to be custodians of Tamil culture and identity. In hindsight, one can say for sure that more than anybody else Rajini knew he was no MGR. He has not done any of the legwork, connecting with masses, something MGR had done during his filmy days. People had started calling him “Makkal Thilakam” much before MGR launched his political party. Rajini can never be that down to earth. In this 21st century, Rajini just can’t create the aura that surrounded MGR in the 1970s and 1980s. In late December, Rajini opened up before his own people citing health reasons. “It is with great regret that I announce that I will not be able to start a political party and come into politics,” he said. Late but wise realisation. Interestingly, it was said that as per earlier plans the party was to be launched on 17 January, the birthday of M.G. Ramachandran.

The name Vivekanandan Krishnaveni Sasikala or simply Sasikala is not new to Tamils, but she was never “into politics”. As a long-time live-in companion of Jayalalithaa, politics may have rubbed off on Sasikala. She was rumoured to help Amma hand-pick candidates during elections. Other than that there was no evidence of political acumen in this lady from the Mannargudi clan, which had attained notoriety for reasons other than politics during Amma’s time. Sasikala has never ever shared any dais with her mentor at any political rally in her lifetime. Even the sobriquet “Chinnamma” was given to her after Jayalalithaa’s demise, purely for self-aggrandisement by aspirants to the throne. It was with utter bewilderment that she donned the robes of general secretary of the AIADMK, of which Jayalalithaa was the sole proprietress till her death. The long hand of the law of the land came to her rescue in the form of a four-year imprisonment in a disproportionate assets case, in which Jayalalithaa too would have been convicted had she been alive. Much water had flown down the Cooum River in those four years with “Chinnamma” hardly figuring in the lives of Tamils. But in late January this year when she was released from Central Jail, Parappana Aggrahara in Bengaluru, her nephew and founder of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, T.T.V. Dhinakaran decided to make a spectacle of it. It is said that even Periyar, the tallest Dravidian leader, known as the lion who fears no cage, “Siraikkanjaa Singham, who had spent a number of years in various jails before and after Independence, did not get such “mass ecstatic fanfare” that had greeted Sasikala on her release. It sent shockwaves right up to Delhi where the ruling BJP was readying “hawks” to get her. Sasikala, without being present in their midst, sent the AIADMK leadership scurrying for cover. Some wanted her back, some didn’t. The grapevine has it that it was not Sasikala that they wanted, they were eying the treasure trove left behind by Amma that she has been supposedly sitting over. Sasikala had other plans. Perhaps she didn’t want another sojourn in jail given the politics played by the ruling party at the Centre. In early March, in an Amma style dramatic move, Sasikala announced that she was “staying away from politics”. As she never made a public appearance, no one could ask at what point she was in politics. Now away from limelight, Sasikala has the last laugh, leaving those who calculated on her in despair.

With Rajini shying away and Sasikala shunning politics, the ruling party at the Centre, nationalist BJP had lost the battle even before it had begun. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had a lot of hope in Rajini; he was their horse for the Tamil Nadu yagna. The game plan was to yoke Rajini to AIADMK, which is already a part of the NDA. In fact, the few rallies that Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah addressed were all about the “achhe din” waiting Tamils in the event of an NDA victory; mind you not a government under present Chief Minister Edapppadi K. Palaniswami. Unlike neighbouring Kerala, the RSS has not succeeded in opening its shakhas in large numbers in Tamil Nadu, where Dravidian politics runs deep. With no organisational set-up per se, and chances of getting talent from elsewhere bleak, the BJP without RSS backing is rudderless in Tamil Nadu. Leaders such as the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath only helped add to the party’s woes. His charge that DMK is anti-women was greeted with all-round contempt. Coming from the land of UP, the monk-turned-politician should take time off to go and stand on the footpath anywhere on the arterial Anna Salai nee Mount Road at peak hours. He can see for himself how women in Tamil Nadu under Dravidian rule have made a mark for themselves over the years. The BJP in this election has lived up to its reputation in Tamil Nadu as a “Hindi Hindu nationalist party”. In the process of drowning in Chennai’s political waters, it has pulled the ruling AIADMK, too, to the depths from which it will take a long time to recover. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu is on the threshold of a change. The DMK led by M.K. Stalin is sure to repeat its performance in the general elections and is set to rule Tamil Nadu, ending ten years of uninterrupted rule by AIADMK, five years with Amma and five without. Memories are bound to fade.

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