Star turn: on actor Rajinikanth's foray into politics

For more than 22 years, Tamil film star Rajinikanth fed the expectation of his entry into politics without fulfilling it. In 1995, when he spoke up against AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa, his statement had a resonance not only among his fans but also the wider public. But then he made his peace with Jayalalithaa and humoured leaders from across the political spectrum. With Jayalalithaa’s death, however, his political ambition found a new life; he held a series of meetings with his fans as if to test his support base. On New Year’s Eve, when he announced his decision to enter politics, he took care to appear as if he were stepping in to fill a political vacuum in the interest of the people of Tamil Nadu, and not to further his own ambition. With the AIADMK in disarray and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi politically inactive on account of age-related ill-health, the political scene in the State seems set for a churn. Actor Kamal Haasan too had spoken of his intention to start a party. With neither the BJP nor the Congress being in a position to challenge the two Dravidian parties, Mr. Rajinikanth could have seen this as an opportune moment to cash in on his fan base after his failure to take advantage of the public sentiment in 1996.

There is no denying Mr. Rajinikanth’s mass appeal, but as in the case of AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa, he doesn’t seem to have a clearly defined ideological position or political programme. Other than saying that his politics will be “spiritual” and neither religious nor casteist, he has not yet articulated a comprehensive political vision. But in a State in which political corruption has been a major issue, resulting in strong electoral verdicts against both major Dravidian parties, his success in politics is likely to be determined by whether he can project himself as a person people can trust and as an agent of the kind of political change that Tamil Nadu really desires. This ties in with his attempt to project himself as all things to all people, a messiah of sorts. Thus, his assurance that he will resign three years after he is voted to power if he is unable to fulfil his yet-to-be-made promises. Mr. Rajinikanth would like to rule as a repository of people’s trust rather than as their direct representative. Even when he created a platform to interact with his fans and supporters, he did not solicit their views or attempt to come to grips with their grievances. By all accounts, Mr. Rajinikanth is preparing to be guided by his own sense of destiny. Other than his movies, and a few stray political comments, people have little to go by. But Mr. Rajinikanth must be aware that charisma is a powerful force in Tamil Nadu politics, enough to catapult others before him to power. With his eye seemingly fixed on the next State Assembly election, policies and programmes can wait.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 4:06:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/star-turn/article22347524.ece

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