Rajinikanth’s political party plunge

Tamil Nadu, the Indian State closest to Sri Lanka, is gripped by a great deal of political excitement these days. Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly elections are due in May 2021. All political parties active in the State – from the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK/ADMK) to the chief opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) – are gearing up in election mode to face polls next year. Polls will be held on the first past the post winner system to 234 Constituencies. One more MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) will be nominated to represent the Anglo-Indian community. 

The advent of a general election always leads to much enthusiasm and anticipation. The forthcoming election however has been enlivened further by an additional factor. The leading Tamil actor Rajinikanth known as “Superstar” has indicated that he would be forming a new political party in January 2021 to face the hustings in May. Rajinikanth has said that the name of the party and its official launch date in January would be announced on 31 December this year. Since Rajinikanth would be celebrating his 70th birth anniversary on 12 December there is speculation that the popular actor may reveal more details about his future political plans on that red letter day ahead of 31 December.

Rajinikanth’s pledge

In keeping with current times where many political leaders and politicians resort to Twitter to make important announcements, the aspiring politician Rajinikanth too made his intention of launching a new party known to the world through tweets. On Thursday 3 December Rajinikanth posted a tweet at the auspicious time of 12.12. In that Tamil language tweet Rajinikanth said: “In the upcoming elections, we will achieve a big victory with the support of the people. A Spiritual politics will emerge in Tamil Nadu that will bring transparency, honesty… a politics with no corruption and one that is free of caste and religious bias.” He further said that “miracles would happen”.

Thereafter media personnel began flocking to the actor’s residence in the upmarket area of Poes Garden in Theynampettai (Teynampet), Chennai. Some hours later Rajinikanth was compelled to conduct an impromptu press conference. It was held in the exterior of his house because of the very large gathering. In that media meet Rajinikanth was very emotional. Rajini – as he is known widely – told journalists that political change was very necessary in Tamil Nadu and that he would only be an instrument of the people to bring about that change. “Political change is very important and the need of the hour. If it doesn’t happen now, it won’t happen ever. Everything needs to be changed.” 

He went on to say: “I am just a small instrument. If I win, it is people’s victory. If I lose, it is the people’s loss. I request people to be with me.” Responding to queries about his personal health, the soon-to-be-septuagenarian superstar said: “Everybody knows that I have had a kidney transplant. The natural (body’s) immunity needs to be reduced to enable the body to accept a new organ. However, the body needs immunity to fight COVID-19. This is a big problem. Doctors advised that it was dangerous to meet people and campaign… But then, when I was ill in Singapore, I came back alive because of the prayers of the people. I will be more than happy now if I lose my life for the people. That is why I have decided to take the political party plunge.”

Associated with Rajinikanth at the media conference was the well-known political activist Thamilaruvi Manian and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tamil Nadu State Intellectual Cell President R. Arjunamoorthy. Rajinikanth said Thamilaruvi Manan would oversee party matters as a “Maetpaarvaiyaalar” (Supervisor) while Arjunamoorthy would be the lynchpin for party activities as an “Orunginaippaalar” (Coordinator).

Arjunamoorthy has supposedly terminated his links with the BJP after he teamed up with Rajini. His personal relationship with several top BJP leaders at both State and National level continues. The maverick Thamilaruvi Manian who has flirted with several political parties in the past has been functioning as a propagandist for Rajinikanth since 2017. He heads an outfit called the ‘Gandhiya Makkal Iyakkam’ (Gandhian People’s Movement) also.

Rajinikanth’s key objective

The key objective of Rajinikanth in launching a new political party is political change in Tamil Nadu. Since 1967 the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu has been ruled by political parties subscribing to what is termed as Dravidian ideology. 

‘Dravidianism’ in essence espouses economic development, social justice, equality, elimination of caste discrimination, women emancipation, secularism, greater cooperation among South Indian states and a Tamil national consciousness.

In recent times, no non-Dravidian party, neither national nor regional, has been able to rule Tamil Nadu for more than five decades. Even the Congress party of the Gandhis and Nehrus which ruled in Tamil Nadu for 20 years after Independence from 1947 to 1967 has been unable to regain power in the State for the past 53 years. The ‘Dravidian’ political ideology has been ruling the roost in Tamil Nadu. Either the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) or its alternative the All India Anna-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) have been enjoying power in the State. Currently the AIADMK is in the saddle but the DMK is strongly tipped to do well in 2021.

It appears therefore that Rajinikanth’s underlying motive in his avowed intention of ushering in change is to dislodge the ‘Dravidan’ parties from the seat of power. This has led to much speculation about Rajinikanth being a witting or unwitting instrument of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Although India is ruled by the BJP with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, the Hindu nationalist party has not made an impact in Tamil Nadu. The so-called “Modi wave” is yet to engulf the Dravidian State. As such many suspect Rajinikanth is being used by the BJP to dent ‘Dravidianism’ in Tamil Nadu and accuse the actor of being a Trojan horse.

Rajinikanth’s political importance

The political importance of Rajinikanth is so great in Tamil Nadu that the State’s foremost English newspaper ‘The Hindu’ – much respected nationally and internationally – thought it fit to pen an Editorial on the topic. Here are a few excerpts from ‘The Hindu’ Editorial of 5 December titled ‘Star turn: On Rajinikanth’s party’:

“Regardless of the eventual outcome of Mr. Rajinikanth’s political project, his move has the potential of facilitating the emergence of a credible third force in the State, where all attempts, since 1977, have ended in failure… Very much like M.G. Ramachandran, M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa, Mr. Rajinikanth is banking heavily on the intangible asset of charisma. Even some of his poorly made films have made money because of a huge fan following. But this is no guarantor of success in elections in Tamil Nadu… Notwithstanding all the challenges that he may have to face, Mr. Rajinikanth, by stitching up the right combination of political forces and declaring adherence to long-cherished ideals of the State such as a development-oriented all-inclusive approach, welfarism and social justice, can possibly provide a stiff fight to the established players.”

The Hindu Editorial refers to Rajinikanth’s charisma and compares him to M.G. Ramachandran, M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa. All three of them were former Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers with a cinematic background. While MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa (both from AIADMK) were popular actors, Karunanidhi (from DMK) was a leading screenplay dialogue writer. So huge was Karunanidhi’s appeal that his name used to be displayed at the start when film credits were shown on screen. Viewed against that backdrop, it is very likely that the charismatic appeal of Rajinikanth will help him to do well in electoral politics as in the case of MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.

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