Tapping the desire for change in Tamil Nadu

Almost a quarter of a century after he first dangled a foot in Tamil politics and three years after announcing his intention to launch a party, superstar Rajinikanth finally set a date last week. With an assurance to launch his party in January and contest in the 2021 Assembly polls, the 69-year-old actor threatens to unsettle the plans of the Dravidian majors. 

Although he has yet to elaborate on his party’s viewpoints, so far it appears that it would be at odds with Dravidian ideology. While his proximity to several BJP figures, appointment of an ex-BJP man as a key functionary and fulsome praise for several NDA moves have contributed to an accusation of being a saffron stooge, Rajini has also stressed on providing a secular alternative.

While at this juncture it is unlikely that Rajini—if he contests the polls alone—will be able to win enough seats to form a government, he does have the potential to play spoiler or kingmaker. With the 2021 polls shaping into a multi-cornered race, small parties, including Rajini’s, will split votes.

A Dravidian major is still likely to win but a deciding factor will probably be the clever stitching together of alliances. Of course, the actor’s own prospects are heavily reliant on whether he contests the elections and leads the party as its chief ministerial candidate. Earlier this year, he made it clear that he had no plan to do either. His cadre are hoping he changes his mind, else they will have a harder sell to make just months before the polls. 

In the context of Tamil politics, Rajini may offer an alternative to the Dravidian ideology that has dominated the state since the 1960s. While its critics have accused the Dravidian parties of corruption and the movement of separatism and antipathy towards religions, it cannot be denied that the state has benefited from the social justice platform borne of the movement. Yet, it also cannot be denied that a desire for change too exists. How Rajini navigates this dichotomy will determine the trajectory of his political career and perhaps even Tamil Nadu’s future.

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