Rajinikanth may have finally entered politics, but Thalaivar’s success isn’t guaranteed
The era of stalwarts in Tamil politics is over. The death of J Jayalalithaa and the virtual eclipse of M Karunanidhi due to old age left a void in Tamil political leadership. Neither Stalin nor E Palaniswami (EPS) or O Panneerselvam (OPS) can match the charisma of Rajinikanth. VK Sasikala, despite the thumping mandate from RK Nagar voters giving legitimacy to her claims of inheriting Jayalalithaa’s legacy, cannot match Thalaivar’s charisma. But, can this charisma automatically translate into a grass roots political organization and massive electoral support? History tells us there is no definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this question.
The BJP has been wooing Rajinikanth with a hope to create a footprint in Dravidian politics. At best, the party hopes to piggyback on Rajinikanth. Earlier, the BJP tried OPS. When the OPS faction failed to deliver any formidable split in AIADMK, the saffron brigade shifted its goal post.
The central BJP directed the political spectacle of the merger of OPS and EPS factions. But, the people of Tamil Nadu, through the RK Nagar verdict decisively rejected the claims of OPS-EPS group to the legacy of Amma. Thus, the BJP would be desperate to have Rajinikanth in the fold. The Tamil Nadu state BJP president has already described Rajinikanth as a natural ally of saffron politics.
The spiritual and nationalist symbolism seen in Rajinikanth’s announcement gives credence to BJP’s claims. Such symbolism is quite uncharacteristic to Dravidian politics. While Kamal Haasan, his friend in films and a co-passenger in Tamil politics, has categorically declared that saffron is not his colour, Rajinikanth neither denied the speculation nor was willing to respond.
The Hindi-Hindu saffron political narrative has always been an antithesis to Tamil identity and Dravidian political discourse despite the Tamil regional parties conveniently switching loyalties to the party in power at Centre. Will the Tamil people favour Rajinikanth’s possible bonhomie with BJP?
Rajini has a large and structured fan base. But, most of them are over 40 years old. He has to invent a formula to connect with the youth. He is 66 years old. His advancing age may also work against him. When NT Rama Rao (NTR) created history, he was at least seven years younger than Rajinikanth. His political entry marks millennials becoming voters. His success in politics greatly depends on how best he connects with these young and aspiring voters.
Rajini is talking about strategy to win the elections which he likened to war. The superstar has entered war. But he is yet to define his friends and foes on the battlefield. The political pavilion in Tamil Nadu is too crowded and awaiting clarity from Rajinikanth.
He has not even properly defined the cause of the war. He calls his political foray as a war for dharma and nyaaya (justice). But these words mean different things to different people. The dharma and nyaaya differs even across the Cauvery River. Rajinikanth should call a spade a spade if he wants to make a mark in politics. This requires polemics devoid of abstract ideas and phrases.
Politics bring both bouquet and brickbats. But these days, Rajinikanth prefers to sit on the fence and barring few exceptions, avoid controversy. Will he shed his diplomacy to become a striking force in politics?
Converting fan base into votes is not always assured. There are conflicting experiences. MGR and NTR succeeded. Vijayakanth and Chiranjeevi failed. Has the superstar learnt from these contrasting experiences?
Rajinikanth’s abilities to articulate from a public platform are yet to be tested. There is a difference in delivering dialogues in films and in politics. NTR was ambidextrous. But for Chiranjeevi, this was a major limitation.
The situation in Tamil Nadu can at best be described as volatile. The ruling AIADMK is rudderless after the demise of Jayalalithaa, prompting Rajinikanth and Kamal to test their political fortunes. But the recent RK Nagar electoral verdict reveals that the ruling AIADMK might be facing a bitter fight between warring factions for inheritance of Jayalalithaa’s political legacy. Yet, the party has not yielded ground to the Opposition.
Dhinakaran’s (also spelt as Dinakaran) victory revealed Jayalalithaa’s political legacy is still alive and kicking in Tamil Nadu. Rajinikanth’s political acumen will be put to the test. He has to convert this political volatility into a political vacuum to find a place for himself. The DMK might have lost, but it still remains a potent force across the state. The Opposition space is not vacant and waiting for someone to fill the gap.
Rajinikanth has a formidable fan following. His non-Tamil identity may not so seriously matter in a state like Tamil Nadu which worshipped MGR and Jayalalithaa. But MGR was steeled in the fiery furnace of Dravidian identity politics and NTR vociferously stood for Telugu pride. Rajinikanth is yet to invent his political idiom.