Rajinikanth clearly believes, it seems, that he will be the redeemer, that his government will follow a spiritual path above caste and creed.
The endless applause made him pause for a while. Rajinikanth, superstar, icon, ‘god’, had just said the words the fans wanted to hear for over 20 years.
Their posters read: “Thalaiva, vaa, dharani aala vaa” (Come leader, come and rule the earth).” He took his time, though. The fans had been concerned that his films had been failing at the box office, and Thalaiva was still not clear about his political entry.
This time, his words were crystal clear, though he began with a Sanskrit verse from the Bhagavad Gita that they could not understand. “It is certain that I am entering politics; I shall announce the formation of our party before the next assembly election, and we shall contest all the 234 constituencies,” he said, sending shockwaves beyond the walls of the Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam into the streets of Chennai, reaching the offices of the time tested Dravidian parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But the elections are far away, in 2021.
“I am entering politics not for status or fame,” he thundered. “If I wanted that, I could have joined in 1996 itself. My entry now at the age of 67 is because it is the need of the time. The system here has touched its nadir. If I did not do something to redress it, my conscience would prick me for not doing my duty to Tamil people who have made me achieve this height.”
He clearly believes, it seems, that he will be the redeemer, that his government will follow a spiritual path above caste and creed.
‘Spiritual’ is something that one has not heard during the last 60 years of Dravidian rule, even from the temple-going Jayalalithaa. What does Rajini mean? A clean honest regime based on dharma? Ram Rajya? Or Gandhian philosophy? He did not spell it out.
Are his words a promo for his film 2.0 (the sequel to 2010’s Enthiran), to be released shortly, the skeptics ask. He is scared of journalists who ask him “what is your ideology?”. He says his head reels when he hears such questions.
But his passionate speech paints a lily-white future. His fans will possibly play a major role, something that gladdens their hearts. Once, they would stay awake all night at the gates of cinema halls on the eve of his film’s release, bathe his sky-high cut-outs with milk and flowers, spend their hard-earned money for the first show that cost the earth; now they seem more eager to see him anointed as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu –– never mind that he hails from Karnataka, and speaks Marathi, his mother tongue.
He mesmerised a generation with his sheer irreverent charm and bravado on screen, winning the hearts of all those young men, failed and depressed unable to achieve their dreams in life. He became their dream, their hope to find meaning in their hopeless lives, as he painted a picture through words scripted by someone else.
To critics who ask what does this actor know of Tamil Nadu politics (who still speaks Tamil with a lisp), he says he has been in politics for more than two decades. His words have been potent enough to decide a political turn. Remember what he said before the assembly elections in 1996? “If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even the gods cannot save Tamil Nadu”.
It led to a split in the Congress, leading to the formation of Tamil Maanila Congress under G.K. Moopanar, Jayalalithaa met with a humiliating defeat, the DMK front won handsomely, and Karunanidhi came to power.
Now the Thalaivar cannot stop at words. He is at the helm. He needs to act. He said “the time has come. Be ready for the war”.
Indeed, Jayalalithaa is dead, and poor Karunanidhi is too ill to speak. Clearly, there is a vacuum, he has been told by his saffron friends. More than his fans, it is the saffron brigade that is feverishly looking for an avenue to make a reasonable presence in Tamil Nadu that has been egging him on, and now welcomes him with great cheer.
That confuses the fan clubs. He said: “I was hesitant because I know the hazards that are in politics. If we decide to go for war, we should be winning it. Veeram (valour) alone is not enough. We need a good strategy.”
His strategy is to increase the fan clubs. To “register the unregistered groups” favouring him spread all over Tamil Nadu. For the next three years, that should be the work of his 50,000 fan clubs.
The fans applaud his every word without pausing to scrutinise the hidden layers. He is the boss. An icon. It is the same story again.
They are his thondars. But he says he does not want thondars, but soldiers. And he will be the commander who will monitor. His oft-repeated dialogue springs to mind – “en vazhi, thani vazi” (My way is a unique way).
Surely it is not a way that can be smooth – the scenario is different from 1996. There is a strong resurgence of Tamil nationalism and regionalism among the young that is vocal and belligerent, and suspects the agenda of the BJP high command.
The open eagerness of the BJP to welcome Rajini’s entry to politics will definitely be an embarrassment to his fan clubs, which include members from minority communities. Non-BJP parties will hesitate to align with him.
To think that there is a political vacuum is an illusion. His entry will have an impact on the two Dravidian parties, but he has a long way to go to take them on.
There is also an unexpected entry and an astonishing winner, Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dinakaran, who has charmed his way through the recent R.K.Nagar by-election win, taking over as MLA from the late Jayalalithaa.
It appears corruption is no longer an election issue in Tamil Nadu. The Tamils flock to the person who is a ‘giver’. A giver who is able to stuff their pockets; pull rabbits out of a hat, or a cooker.
How can Rajinikanth, who has been scrupulously careful in his spending, cope with such a scene? How will he, who depends solely on fan clubs, control those who tend to be unruly? Does he know that his own fan clubs go door to door and collect money to celebrate his birthday?
Difficult questions are asked. What is his policy? He knows not. What is his ideology? He has none. What are his views on Koodankulam, farmers’ problems, Sri Lankan Tamils’ misery, fishermen’s agony, honour killings etc, on which he has not uttered a single word?
The questions are baffling, and he has no answers. He is right. Politics is not easy.
Vaasanthi is a writer and journalist, who authored an unofficial biography of J. Jayalalithaa.