Tamil Nadu has a long history where Dravidian politics is associated with the Tamil cinema industry and they both go hand in hand because the Tamil film industry has produced three Chief Ministers. The trend started with M.Karunanidhi and CN Annadurai who were known for their acumen in script writing and continued the same zeal in delivering powerful scripts which propagated the ideological messages of Social Justice and Anti-Brahmanism (the movie Parasakthi was heavily based on this). These were also the core ideologies of the Dravidian movement in the state. Since then, there has been no stopping and the Dravidian movement further gave rise to two Chief Ministers who were film superstars (MGR & Jayalalithaa).
MGR’s career in politics was the ditto performance of his on screen persona i.e., being the savior of the poor and he carried along this image in his public life as well. He was known to be a generous person who had a cult like following among his followers especially the women voters. People saw the same persona which he portrayed on the screen in his real life as well and they wasted no time in associating themselves with his party, the AIADMK. After MGR, it was Jayalalithaa who carried on the baton and also succeeded in convincing the people that the AIADMK’s legacy shall always have the ideals of MGR.
Since then, many from the film industry have started their own parties or joined any of the two Dravidian parties. The latest to form a party was Kamal Hassan with his experiment of Makkal Needhi Mayyam. But there has been one more person or I must say ‘Superstar’ who has been keeping up the ante of expectation of the Tamil people for a long long time. It is none other than Rajinikanth.
Rajinikanth is no newcomer to politics and has been associated directly or indirectly with the two Dravidian parties in the state. In the run up to the 1996 TN Legislative Assembly Elections, the DMK-TMC alliance was running high due to the anti-incumbency of the AIADMK government headed by Jayalalithaa. Jayalalithaa during this period was accused of amassing wealth and also spending lavishly on the wedding of her foster son when the state was struggling financially and economically. This did not go down well with the people. And giving a shot in the arm to the DMK-TMC alliance was when Rajinikanth who joined the campaign in support of DMK and its allies. Rajinikanth since the early 90’s had the same cult like following which MGR once possessed and people saw him as a possible successor to MGR. His famous statement during one of the campaigns, “Even God cannot save TN if AIADMK comes back to power”, was a decisive changing factor. Political pundits believed Rajinkanth as a power factor since then and believed that one of the major reasons for the defeat of the then AIADMK government was credited to the superstar. Since then Rajinikanth has been a powerhouse and his support has often been decisive in tilting the moods of the voters whenever an election is being held in TN. Even in 2011, he expressed an opinion that there should be a change in the present governance headed by DMK and again people wasted no time in electing the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa.
It was only in late 2017 that Rajinikanth was fully convinced that he’s ready to take the big plunge i.e., starting his own party and becoming a full time politician. This was also partly due to the absence of two charismatic leaders in active politics. (Jayalalithaa passed away in 2016 & M.Karunanidhi passing on the party’s reins to his son MK Stalin). He believed that the absence of a charismatic leader was an opportune moment for him to establish himself as the leader of the masses (the same persona which propelled MGR & Jayalalithaa to power). He started experimenting with his political ideology by claiming that he wished to pursue an alternate politics to that of Dravidian politics and started promoting a new brand of ideology i.e., ‘spiritual politics’. This evoked mixed reactions from the people, as the state was averse to the idea of bringing any change to the Dravidian politics and rationalistic ideas (religion was never a factor in TN politics) dominant in the state.
The people’s perception was that the Dravidian movement had succeeded in bringing a new social movement which promoted social welfare and ideals contrary to that of the prevailing right wing politics elsewhere in the country. And also the closeness of Rajinikanth with PM Modi had further created a discontent with the Tamil people who usually saw BJP as an alien party with no locus standi in the Dravidian social movement (BJP is known to be a party with high anti Periyar and anti-Dravidian sentiments). And all these further contributed to the people slowly losing trust in his brand of politics and ideologies. In the past three years, Rajinikanth has been continuously evading taking a stance on starting his political party and beginning his real political venture. In March 2020, he gave a speech where he stressed on the importance of first ridding the existing political structure which reeked of corruption and then claiming that if he comes to power, he shall not be the Chief Minister and will give chance to someone who is highly erudite and a youngster. This again further created discontent but this time it was his die hard supporters and fans who were upset for not coming out clean on his stand.
Yesterday, Rajinikanth had again clarified that his political plunge is being delayed due to the corona pandemic and his doctors had advised him not to venture out and carry any campaign as this may have an effect on his health as he is aged and recovering from a kidney ailment.
The Rajinikanth factor in TN politics is more or less over and he doesn’t seem to enjoy the confidence of the Tamil people like he did in the early 90’s. His stance on ideologies has been confusing and has not resonated well with the people of TN. Further his no proper ideals and the constant delaying of his entry into politics has made the people in the state to question his commitment. People no longer seem to trust him and many are of the opinion that he should remain in cinema and entertain the masses, which is probably the only thing he’s good at. There’s a saying in Tamil “Madhil mel Poonai” which roughly translates to the idiom ‘Cat on the wall’ and the people of TN including me firmly believe that Rajinikanth is that cat with no proper leanings and a fence sitter who does not take a firm side and is therefore highly distrusted. The Superstar should only blame himself for this moniker for not coming out clean on his stance in politics.
Keerthi Nathan is currently pursuing his Masters in Social Entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He is an avid Tennis player and takes a keen interest in analysis of political events in the country.