Tamil superstar Rajinikanth announced on Tuesday that he has been forced to shelve his plans to enter politics because of health reasons. Earlier this month, he had announced that he would launch a political party on December 31, to pursue “spiritual politics”, and contest the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, scheduled in April next year. His retreat from the fray removes a key unknown factor that had promised to turn the election into a more exciting and unpredictable event. In his absence, the main contest would be, as it has been, between the two major Dravidian parties, the ruling AIADMK and the DMK.
In his three-page statement released on social media, Rajinikanth spoke about falling ill on the sets of a Tamil film. The doctors, it appears, warned the 70-year-old actor, who had had a renal transplant some years ago, against campaigning in the midst of COVID-19. Clearly, his first love is cinema and his decision may be guided by that consideration. It could also be the case, however, that he wasn’t sure if his leadership could ensure a blockbuster launch for his party. Rajinikanth films have banked on his persona, of course. But the formula for success has always extended beyond the actor to include talented directors and co-stars, good music, powerful dance and stunt choreography, scripts that had a contemporary resonance. Loyal fans provided surety for the investment — the actor is famous for compensating the producer in the event of a flop, which is rare. However, he could not attract a similar cast and crew to frame his political debut. The individuals he managed to draw in from other parties were extras, having played only small insignificant roles in politics. Besides, there were rumours that his political role was being directed by a national party. The hero, who has been in cinema for over four decades, must have figured that even his box-office billing was insufficient to lift a weak political script.
In 1996, a sharp remark from Rajinikanth was seen to have turned the tide against the then chief minister, J Jayalalithaa. Politics in Tamil Nadu now has a diminished star cast, with Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi having left the scene and Rajinikanth now opting out. Voters have become demanding and both the Dravidian majors are focussed on the narrative and the supporting cast provided by coalition partners. In the end, Rajinikanth has been smart in reading the signs, and Kollywood stands to gain.