Getting Real With Rajinikanth: The Sterlite Shout-Out

Rajinikanth’s comment on Tuticorin protests has sparked controversy. But is everybody reading too much into it?

5 min read
Rajinikanth loses his cool at a press conference at the Chennai airport.

Rajinikanth said it. There's no denying it. He sympathised with the protesters, and said they were common fisherfolk, innocent and in need of justice. He blamed anti-social elements for the violence that broke out in the aftermath of vehement protests against Sterlite’s copper plant in Tuticorin.

Yet, he did say protests would turn Tamil Nadu into a crematorium.

If people keep protesting all the time, then Tamil Nadu will become a crematorium.
Rajinikanth, in a presser at Chennai Airport

But, are the opposition parties, sympathisers of the Dravidian parties, and journalists themselves, reading more than there actually is, between these lines?

Where and What

For those who came in late, this was after his visit to the Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) government hospital, where he regaled his fans (basically, everybody) with his presence, and promised a 2 lakh rupee purse for each of the deceased's families, and Rs 10,000 for the wounded. All was well with the world, and Thalaiva stood tall.

At the press meet after this, he spoke about how:

A peaceful protest was inflitrated by anti-social elements, due which it erupted into violence.

Speculative, but still nothing damaging so far.

The police had to fire, because they had no choice. They were attacked and things went out of control. It was because of this that they had to retaliate.

Uh, oh!
Rajinikanth made it clear when he announced he would visit Tuticorin, that he was going there as an actor, not a politician.

I am going there as an actor. When they see an actor, they will feel happy.
Rajinikanth, to the media, a day before Thoothukudi visit

A very honest statement of intent, from a performer with a heart. But then his statement supporting the police, with the 13 shootings looming large, has left a bad aftertaste to what would have been a memorable visit for his fans and those wounded in the protests on 22nd May.

Rajinikanth argues with a reporter.
Rajinikanth argues with a reporter.
(Photo: The Quint)

Where Rajini Went Wrong

What or who started the riot, after 100 days of peaceful resistance, is still a mystery. It is possible that Rajinikanth's theory of 'anti-social elements infiltrating' the peaceful gathering pans out. It is possible that he is wrong. To make such a sweeping statement, with only a mild display of displeasure for the government for their lapse, is bad PR, whether he said it as an actor, or a politician. Especially in light of the anti-establishment mood in Thoothukudi. The people have suffered Sterlite's disregard for rules, and have been betrayed for years by a toothless TNPCB, shot dead by the police, and now finally let down by their Superstar.

But, his final statement about protests turning Tamil Nadu into a crematorium (he left immediately after this), was completely random. It had nothing to do with the question asked, nor his trail of answers thus far. The superstar lost his cool, and chose the worst possible exit line to the interview.

Rajini’s First Interview As a Politician?

At the Chennai airport, a reporter badgered Rajinikanth about his comments (on anti-social elements infiltrating the protest..) at the earlier press conference. The reporter spoke of how opposition parties felt he had demeaned the struggle of the people. Typically, when Rajini is done answering questions, or faces one he doesn't like, he simply walks off. This time, he decided to take on the reporter, and then things went south.

There's a huge difference between a film star being interviewed, and a politician being asked questions. This is something Rajinikanth will need to learn to navigate, and soon! In his interviews so far, the superstar has never been badgered with questions (including political ones) that required him to answer specifically.

What was it you said about the anti-social elements?

I’m telling you the violence and the firing all happened because of the anti-social elements who inflitrated.

How do you know?

You can’t ask me that. I know it.

The airport incident, therefore, might well have been Rajinikanth’s FIRST real interview as a politician.
DMK leader MK Stalin counters Rajinikanth’s statements saying he speaks for the BJP and AIADMK, the parties that support him.
DMK leader MK Stalin counters Rajinikanth’s statements saying he speaks for the BJP and AIADMK, the parties that support him.
(Photo Courtesy: The News Minute)

What is intriguing to watch though, is that the other politicians of the state have been handled with kid gloves by the media.

Rajinikanth’s statement makes me wonder if it is him talking or the political party that is backing him that is doing the talking. I believe it is the BJP or the AIADMK who has prompted him to say so.
M K Stalin, DMK Working President

That Rajinikanth is a pawn of the BJP, is an oft repeated statement by the DMK. He is non-Tamil, and is seen as an alien, especially when it concerns politics.

But, there is as much proof for this statement, as there is for Rajinikanth's 'anti-social inflitration' spiel. And yet, when Stalin made the allegation, there wasn't a single counter by the reporters present. Nor has there been a heated debate in press conferences or interviews of either the DMK or AIADMK.

Wait for It!

In a video that has since gone viral, film director and suddenly turned political activist Karu Palaniappan made some pertinent observations, after Rajinikanth said he could bring back 'MGR's rule', at a function in MGR college.

MGR swore on his mother that he would not allow alcohol to flow in TN, when he came to power. But it was he who established TASMAC, which now brings in over 28,000 crores in revenue through the sale and distribution of liquor. MGR introduced a financial clause to reservations. Then abolished it and raised it to 50% (from 31%). Which MGR rule is Rajinikanth going to enforce?

It takes years of groundwork to earn the people's trust and rise to power. Rajinikanth's political avatar is yet to be unveiled. The more practical thing to do would be to wait until that happens, and allow a 67-year-old man, who withstood hours of heat under the sun, a single slip of the tongue.

But, will he turn out to be one among too many loose-tongued politicians in Tamil Nadu and the rest of India?

As Thalaiva himself would say, “God only knows.”

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