On Thursday, the popular Tamil actor Rajinikanth announced that he will launch a political party, ending years of speculation. On December 31, he plans to announce a January launch date for the party. Tamil Nadu goes to Assembly polls in May 2021.
The long wait
Speculation about Rajinikanth entering politics entry started in 1996, when he first spoke against then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa; he would claim later that it was his statement that defeated her in the polls that year. Even before that, he had a strained relationship with Chief Minister and AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran — himself an actor — and Jayalalithaa, who succeeded MGR.
His first decisive statement about joining politics, however, came only on December 31, 2017. In March this year, he said he would not contest elections — in his words, he would be a lunatic to have a thirst for power at age 70 if he didn’t have it when he was 45 (in 1996).
All these years, his fans awaited his entry in politics and his installation as Chief Minister. It has been a long wait — his core fan base, who were in their 20s and 30s when they first demanded his leadership in the 1990s, are middle-aged now.
On Thursday, after announcing his decision, he asserted there will be a regime change. “Everything is fate. This election is to change the fate of Tamil Nadu… If I win, that will be a victory for the people, and if I fail, too also belongs to them… I will change everything, everything!” 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Another player in 2021 fray
In 2016, opposition votes split between the DMK and a third front of Left and Dalit parties, helping the AIADMK survive anti-incumbency. Rajinikanth’s entry will add yet another player against the two Dravidian majors. TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK and actor Kamal Haasan’s MNM are also in the fray, contesting individually.
Many believe, however, that Rajinikanth is more likely to gain from bastions of the AIADMK and BJP rather than split the opposition votes, given that cadres and supporters of DMK, Left-leaning and minority parties are mostly unhappy with Rajinikanth’s camaraderie with the BJP and RSS.
In 2017, Rajinikanth had announced that his party would contest on its own. Now that he is actually launching the party, it looks possible that he will not go into an alliance in 2021 either. If he does contest alone, he will face a challenge even to repeat what Captain Vijayakanth had achieved in the 2006 elections with his new party DMDK. Fielding candidates in all seats got the DMDK about 8% of the vote, but not a single candidate, except Vijayakanth himself, won the election. Any performance less than Vijayakanth’s would be embarrassing to Rajinikanth.
It is seen as unlikely that Rajinikanth will get smaller parties into his new alliance. Parties such as CPM, CPI, VCK and Vaiko’s MDMK will not leave the DMK alliance unless serious disputes emerge over seat-sharing talks. And Rajinikanth is not expected to join hands with an unpopular BJP before polls. Again, chances of AIADMK-NDA ally, PMK, and Vijayakanth’s fading DMDK allying with Rajinikanth cannot be ruled out altogether.
Rajinikanth has hardly any prominent faces in his camp — something that also robbed Kamal Haasan’s political entry of its sheen. His party workers will likely include fans of whom most are already in their past 50s, while new-generation film fans follow superstars such as Vijay and Ajith.
Rajinikanth was silent about his alliance plans, or even about his own candidature. In March 2020, he said he would not contest polls. If he is not projected as the chief ministerial candidate, the question to ask is: why would his fans, who had been voting for different political parties over the years, support a new party with unknown faces?
‘Spiritual politics’ & BJP
In January 2018, and on Thursday, Rajinikanth said his proposed party would strive for “spiritual politics”, which he explained as being “honest and corruption-free.” But the word “spiritual” earned him the tag of being a right-wing leader in Tamil Nadu, where followers of Dravidian politics have always taken positions against religious and casteist systems.
Of the two men Rajinikanth introduced on Thursday as his closest aides, one was Ra Arjunamurthy, who was the state president of the BJP intellectual cell until a few days ago. Also, Rajinikanth was a fan of the late Cho Ramaswamy, an influential social critic known for being sympathetic towards Hindutva ideology, and flaunts his closeness with S Gurumurthy, an insider in the Sangh Parivar.
Those close to him argue he is not an RSS supporter. However, unlike leaders such as DMK chief M K Stalin or even Kamal Haasan, who are non-religious and Left-leaning, Rajinikanth grew up in a deeply religious environment in Karnataka. To this is being attributed his “spiritual” orientation. In an earlier interview with The Indian Express, Satyanarayana Rao Gaekwad, the actor’s elder brother, recalled that till Rajinikanth was 18, “he visited the Ramakrishna Math near our Bangalore house every day”.
Two of Rajinikanth’s films have been about his gurus — Baba (2002), based on Mahavatar Babaji, and Sree Raaghavendar (1985), on Raghavendra.
Pandemic & his health
Campaigning and addressing public rallies are a major concern, with Rajinikanth having reportedly undergone a kidney transplant in 2016.
Those in his inner circle said they are considering options such as “bio-bubble”, a concept used in IPL 2020. An imaginary “bubble” will seek to ensure his safety by allowing only a limited number of people in close proximity, who would be regularly tested for Covid-19 throughout the campaign.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines