Bengaluru: After years of “will-he-won’t-he”, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s fans Tuesday finally got an answer about his plans for a political career. Weeks after he reiterated that he would launch a party in January 2021 and field candidates from all 234 seats in the upcoming Tamil Nadu assembly polls, Rajinikanth cited a “warning from God” to bow out of the race.
The message came after blood pressure fluctuations landed him in hospital last week, while he was in Hyderabad for a film shoot.
Rajinikanth’s rendezvous with politics began roughly 25 years ago, with several parties vying for his backing to tap into the near-complete devotion he enjoys among his fans.
However, his journey on the political front has been marked by flip-flops — he once supported the DMK but then voiced support for its arch rival AIADMK; where he once denied any desire to see himself as a political leader or statesman, he cited the “deterioration” in Tamil Nadu politics to announce the launch of his party in 2017.
A Tamil cinema star, a national icon
Born in Bengaluru on 12 December 1950, Rajinikanth is Marathi by roots. He worked as a bus conductor before he made his cinema debut in 1975. Over the following years, he emerged as one of the tallest stalwarts of Tamil movies and a pop culture icon who courts popularity throughout the country.
In Tamil Nadu, cinema and politics are closely linked, and two former screen icons — M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK — have led the state as chief ministers. Another former chief minister, the late M. Karunanidhi of the DMK, first made his name writing scripts and dialogues for films.
In this light, Rajinikanth’s deep influence had stoked constant speculation about his plans for a political stint. Over the years, however, Rajinikanth has thrown his weight behind different politicians but stayed away from the stage himself.
In 1996, Rajinikanth backed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) alliance.
During that election, Rajinikanth famously said — “If Jayalalithaa is voted back to power, even God cannot save Tamil Nadu.” The alliance swept the polls and the win was at least partly credited to Rajini’s statement.
In 1998, the DMK-TMC alliance once again sought his support for the general elections, but managed to win just nine of the state’s 39 seats.
Two decades later, during a media interaction, the superstar called the decision to join hands with the DMK a “political accident”.
“About 21 years ago, I was involved in a political accident. It was during the time that I announced my support to a political party. It was the support of my fans and the people of Tamil Nadu who ensured victory for that party. I realise it was a mistake,” he said.
In 2002, Rajinikanth announced his plans to start a “people’s movement” to highlight issues such as the Cauvery water-sharing dispute with Karnataka, and the need to interlink Himalayan and peninsular rivers. At the time, he denied having any desire to see himself as a “political leader or statesman”.
Cut to 2004, eight years after he backed the DMK, and Rajinikanth pulled off a U-turn and expressed his support for the BJP-AIADMK alliance. Unapologetic about his earlier comment on J. Jayalalithaa and her governance, he said he was supporting the BJP-AIADMK alliance because they had assured him that they would work out a solution on the interlinking of rivers to solve the state’s water crisis.
“He had spoken about this when other political parties did not take a stand on the issue. He wanted the NDA to act on their promise,” his brother K. Sathyanarayana told ThePrint.
Despite his backing, the alliance failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu.
‘If the time is not right…’
In 2008, Rajinikanth made a statement that today seems like a prophecy. During a public meeting, a fan asked him about his intentions to enter politics.
“Time and circumstances determine what can happen. It would seem foolish to think that one could be successful in policy with hard work, capability and experience. If the time is not right, nothing can happen according to plan,” he said.
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a personal visit to the actor’s home in Chennai. While it was said to be an unofficial visit, sources in the Rajinikanth camp claimed at the time that it was meant to earn the star’s support during elections.
In recent times, Rajinikanth has made no bones about his admiration for the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as Prime Minister Modi and Union Home minister Amit Shah.
When the Union government announced the scrapping of Article 370, Rajinikanth was among the first few to congratulate the BJP leaders. He compared Modi and Shah to “Krishna and Arjuna” from the Mahabharata.
When the wait ended
In 2017, it finally seemed like the suspense was over as Rajinikanth announced his decision to take the political plunge. He said his party would be called the Rajini Makkal Mandram, which loosely translates into ‘Rajini Fans Club’, and would contest the next Tamil Nadu assembly election.
“The time has come for me to enter politics. We need ‘spiritual’ politics. That is my goal and wish,” he said.
“I will contest in 234 constituencies. I will start a political party a few months before elections and tell people about our ideology and policies. If we don’t fulfil our promises, we will resign in three years,” he said.
Earlier this month, with just a few months to go for the Tamil Nadu assembly elections, he reiterated his commitment and said he would launch his party in 2021.
However, health concerns appear to have stalled his plans.
In a message announcing his decision to stay away from politics, he apologised to fans he described his hospitalisation as a “warning from God”.
“I do not want you all (supporters) to become a victim of my promise,” he wrote, adding that he will serve people in whatever ways he can without entering electoral politics.