Tamil Nadu: Can Rajinikanth Be BJP’s Superstar? Suspense Continues

The BJP might have succeeded in consolidating majority community in several states, but not in Tamil Nadu.

7 min read
BJP might have succeeded in consolidating majority community in several states, but not in Tamil Nadu. So will Rajinikanth be the trump factor?

Is Rajinikanth entering politics? This has been a topic of debate for decades and even now we don’t have an answer. The actor teased us with the idea of his own party in December 2017, but didn’t really specify a proper agenda or power structure. He put out a dozen cryptic tweets and then said he won’t be the chief ministerial candidate, leaving people even more confused.

Actor Rajinikanth has been playing the ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ game for too long, that very few are betting on him to radically change the political scenario in any way.

The upcoming 2021 Assembly elections are very crucial because this is the first time in decades that the two Dravidian parties will be fighting it off without veteran leaders Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.

The BJP might have succeeded in consolidating the majority community in several other states, but when it comes to Tamil Nadu, they have not made even a dent.

This year, the party has decided to devise various ‘Hindu nationalist’ strategies to garner support. However, many say that the trump card could be: The Rajini factor.

The Oh-So-Real ‘Fake’ Note

On 29 October, newspapers flashed the headlines ‘Is Rajinikanth quitting politics?’ based on a ‘note’ purportedly authored by the actor that has been in circulation.

In the ‘note’ the star has allegedly cited the coronavirus pandemic, his age, health condition and uncertainty over the availability of a vaccine as reasons behind his decision to quit politics.

Sources close to the actor told The Quint said he never authored any such note, although his health has been deteriorating.

The actor took to Twitter to issue a clarification. “The leaked letter is not mine, but the information on my health and doctors’ advice is true. I shall discuss with Rajini Makkal Mandram and announce my political stand at an appropriate time,” he tweeted.

A member of the Rajini Makkal Mandram spoke to The Quint on anonymity, that the note was purportedly shared by them.

“It was a strategic move. Now media channels are not pulling him up everyday, saying that he is not doing anything about his political plans. Media has moved away from him for now. If he is leaving politics, why will we still be pasting posters of him all over the state?” he said, confirming that the actor’s political ambitions cannot be dismissed as yet.
Tamil Nadu: Can Rajinikanth Be BJP’s Superstar? Suspense Continues

Political analyst Sumanth Raman, however, dismissed this, “I don’t agree with the idea that he is apparently lulling them into complacency before he hits at them with a surprise.”

“We have been inviting him into this platform for change. And we do want him to take care of his health due to his old age. We are also working on various techniques, even using a hologram. Even one tweet by him would make a larger impact than a maanadu (a congregation),” Deepak said.

Will a 1996 Repeat Happen?

Rajini has been dropping hints about his political aspirations since the 1990s, which were only made official on 31 December 2017. He had said, “I will enter politics and launch a party to serve the people of Tamil Nadu as the (political) system in Tamil Nadu has been ruined.”

Many political commentators said that in 1996, his punch line, “Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu" if the AIADMK comes back to power, resulted in the party’s humiliating defeat, with it winning just four Assembly seats out of 234, and Jayalalithaa herself losing. In the aftermath, Karunanidhi expressed his gratitude to the icon, saying that he had blessed the DMK-Tamil Maanila Congress alliance.

Political analyst Sumanth Raman brushed that aside saying, “Back then, he only said what was on people’s minds and anyway she (Jayalalithaa) would've lost. And it is important to note that the mass appeal of Rajinikanth has definitely toned down due to the change in generation of the fans. His fans have become 40-50 years old and the teens don't idolise him that way anymore.”

Tamil Nadu: Can Rajinikanth Be BJP’s Superstar? Suspense Continues

What Is the Rajini Makkal Mandram?

As a precursor to the formation of a political party, the actor’s fan clubs had been converted into the Rajini Makkal Mandram (RMM), or so was assumed.

Is it a party? Is it a fan club? Is it a media house? Well, even now it is hazy.

Tamil Nadu: Can Rajinikanth Be BJP’s Superstar? Suspense Continues

Over the past three years, RMM has stated that they are not just one among the hundred fanatic fan clubs and have been focussed on proving to the people of Tamil Nadu what the actor intends to do if he comes to power.

An RMM member said that if the actor intended to quit, he would’ve voiced his decision already.

So, how is Rajinikanth leveraging his stardom in the political arena?

Will He Tango With BJP?

RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy, met with actor Rajinikanth recently, and reportedly insisted that he should reconsider his plans on staying away from politics. The BJP reportedly wants the actor to speak up for the saffron party, build their image which could make inroads into the votebanks of the Dravidian parties.

On 21 November, when Amit Shah visited Chennai to meet BJP cadres to discuss their campaigning strategies for the elections, it was rumoured that he would meet the star.

However, the meeting didn’t take place. But it is significant to note that Gurumurthy met the Union Home Minister. A source close to the actor said that he ‘passed on a message from the star’. However, this couldn’t be independently verified.

Rajini: BJP’s Poster Boy?

In the 2021 elections, the BJP is not looking at replacing a Dravidian party or saffronising the state. Political analysts believe the party is trying to build their image, establish a local connect as the saffron party is frowned upon in the state as a ‘Hindi speaking north Indian party.’ Also the BJP’s Hindu nationalist strategies have been a clear antithesis to Dravidian ideologies of Anna and Periyar, followed till today by the DMK and the AIADMK.

This is what the saffron party has been doing:

  1. For the Vetri Vel Yatra, an attempt by the BJP to first create and then consolidate a ‘Hindu vote’ in the state, they chose the deity Murugan, who does not feature in the pantheon of Brahminical Gods and is considered a Tamil God.
  2. Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam made it clear on a public platform that the AIADMK-BJP alliance will fight the 2021 Assembly elections together, amid Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to the state on Saturday, 21 November. This reiterated how the the saffron party had a stronghold on the ruling party in the state.
  3. What is interesting to note is that images of former Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) founder MG Ramachandran were used along with the BJP flag, the party symbol – lotus and pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a video released by the BJP.
  4. The Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP named L Murugan as the state president of the BJP, who was also appointed as vice-chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC). Venkatachalapathy, Professor at Madras institute of Development Studies, had said the reason why Murugan was chosen was “for BJP, this is a long term strategy. They have chosen a party president who comes from a Dalit community. They are trying the same strategy that they have used in other parts of India where there is strong caste identity and caste mobilisation.”
  5. Roping in actor-politician Khushbu from Congress and appointing former IPS officer K Annamalai as the vice-president of the party’s state unit who are popular faces and make for a local connect.
  6. Rajinikanth being the trump card, of course.
“I still expect him to come out with some sort of an endorsement , if not launch a party. He will probably post a cryptic message saying, ‘Vote for parties who believe in God,’ instead of directly mentioning BJP. Then, this will become the topic of TV debates who will be busy figuring out what he meant and that is enough name recall for the BJP. I expect the BJP to also insist that Rajini’s image be used in the campaigns to garner support for BJP.”
Sumanth Raman, Political Analyst
Tamil Nadu: Can Rajinikanth Be BJP’s Superstar? Suspense Continues

RMM members want to take forward the actor’s political ambitions of ‘Now or never. There should be a change. Both in the political party governing the state and style of governance. Aatchi maaranum. Arasiyal maranum.”

So how much longer should we wait now?

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