Waiting for Rajini: On the super star’s politics

Two years after declaring himself worthy of filling the perceived political vacuum in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth appears confused and doubting. Not only has he ruled himself personally out of the electoral race, but mandated his followers to show “a wave of resurgence” among the people for him to launch a party. By placing such an impractical condition a year before the Assembly elections, he has lent credence to the charge that he is a reluctant political player with a big gap between aspiration and effort. He expects people’s endorsement for his three-point strategy for an alternative model of politics. He envisages heading a party but appointing a young, visionary and knowledgeable person as Chief Minister; fielding young candidates, 65% of them aged below 50; and disbanding the party organisation structure after the election retaining only a minimal set of office-bearers, apparently to prevent party leaders from fighting for the spoils of power. Separating party leadership from elected office is not novel as the founders of the Shiv Sena and Pattali Makkal Katchi have shown. But this model, far from promoting abstinence as practised by Mahatma Gandhi or Jayaprakash Narayan, will result in creating extra-constitutional authorities. Though Rajinikanth insisted that there will be no parallel power structure, he had no qualms in saying he would replace the Chief Minister — a job legitimately belonging to legislators — should the need arise. Clearly, he wants to retain power in the very act of renouncing it.

Rajinikanth’s indecisiveness perhaps could be attributed to his reading of the ground situation and refusal to accept anything short of a spectacular victory. This goes against the essence of his stated goal to usher in political reforms to cleanse the system. At the dawn of 2018, he was confident of utilising the space created by the political exit of Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. Down the line, the AIADMK and DMK have filled the leadership vacuum. In fact, Rajinikanth has conceded that star power could at best make him a vote divider. He has also concluded that it is a “now or never” opportunity to oust the Dravidian giants. Referring to Gandhiji’s and Swami Vivekananda’s transformational moments in Tamil Nadu, he says he wants a 1967-like ‘revolution’, when C.N. Annadurai led a regional party to power for the first time. What he fails to realise is that these personalities had drawn people to participative democracy, and not expected their supporters to deliver political power to them in a neat package. If he desires to lead, Rajinikanth should show the way and not expect others to propel him to power to fulfil an as yet unarticulated political agenda.

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