Now or Never: Timing of Rajinikanth’s Announcement is Important
The last day of 2017 will be remembered as a day that turned Tamil Nadu politics upside down, subsequently sending national politics into a tizzy– with 40 seats from the state making the AIADMK the third largest party in Parliament, keeping the central government dependent on it.
On 31 December, Rajinikanth announced his entry into the Tamil Nadu political arena. The superstar sent his fans into a frenzy with his line from 1989 film Mapillai, when he tells his on-screen mother-in-law – played by actress Srividhya – that he is the king of the state. Rajinikanth has been involved in politics from that point on. He played a role backing the DMK-Tamil Maanila Congress combine in 1996 defeating AIADMK but came up short in his faceoff with PMK during the release of his film Baba.
His one day fast for the Kaveri issue, which he started independent of Bharathiraja and company’s Neyveli agitation, brought back some control. In 2008, he took part in hunger strike condemning the Karnataka government’s stand on Hogenakkal. In 2011, he threw his weight behind Anna Hazare offering his marriage hall for free to protesters.
Since then, he has largely been silent, until mid-2017 that is, when he started to meet his fans in every district. For the first time since 2002, he talked about politics. The system has become corrupt, he said.
RK Nagar Put TN’s Political Vacuum on Display
The timing of the announcement is key for two main reasons. One, this was now-or-never for Rajinikanth, what with Kamal Haasan also making his intention to enter politics clear. Actor Vishal attempted to contest the RK Nagar election while Vijay is also dropping hints about a political debut. Rajinikanth’s fans were running out of patience and if the announcement did not come when it did, the doors would have shut for good.
The Road Ahead For The Superstar
Rajinikanth has embarked upon his political journey. But where will the road take him?His fanbase may not be as strong, as say 1996, but it is still solid. A Thanthi TV survey showed that he had 21 percent vote share in the state as of August 2017. But his biggest strength is his support within the film industry.
His entry will lure supporters who gave up on him and joined other parties. It may also draw support people from other parties who have given up on their leaders. The latter is the reason why the other parties are playing up the actor’s non-Tamil roots. However, the matter is likely to die down before it even begins, considering Tamil Nadu’s history with non-Tamil chief ministers – like Jayalalithaa, Kalaignar and MGR.
Above all, voters are tired of the two main parties in the state. They do not view the existing parties as a viable third option. This trend, that could be inferred from both, the 2016 state polls and the RK Nagar bypoll, will work largely in favor of Rajinikanth.
The Twin Factors: Freebies & Coalition
However, all of it will depend on how he approaches the elections. In Tamil Nadu, freebies and coalitions rule the roost and Rajinikanth will have to work his way around both factors. In terms of ideology, the actor needs to be upfront if religion (not spirituality) is going to be important part of his political plans. It could result in alienation or consolidation of his base. How the BJP handles Rajinikanth will also influence whether the voters will accept him.
But will he end up like MGR? Or will he end up like Vijayakanth? That is – in the words of Rajinikanth himself – “Andavan kayilthaan iruku (in God’s hands)”. The gods here though, are the people of Tamil Nadu.
(Anand Balasubramanian is an IT professional. This is a personal blog and the opinions expressed above are the author’s own. You can follow the author on Twitter @absaysthis . The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)