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Will stardom help superstar?
While Annadurai's Dravidianism and personal stardom supplemented MGR's and Jayalalithaa's political victory, Rajinikanth just has stardom in his kitty
No one can tell when or how I'll arrive — but I always do, when the time is right”. When this punch dialogue was delivered by style mannan (king) Rajinikanth in his 1995 hit Muthu, nobody would have imagined he would take these lines into the real world. The Tamil superstar's announcement about his political entry has created more than mere ripples as he steps into politics in the post-Jayalalithaa era where there now exists a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu. The announcement was made by Rajini on the last day of 2017, which came after a gap of 21 years when he famously said, “If Jayalalithaa were voted back to power, even god cannot save Tamil Nadu.”
What is noteworthy is that a political force with a non-Dravidian and spiritual genre is giving hopes and confidence to the BJP's dreams about Tamil Nadu politics. Welcoming Rajinikanth's entry into politics, BJP State president Tamilisai Soundararajan tweeted, “Welcome actor Rajinikanth's political entry with the motto of corruption free good governance, which is the sole aim of the BJP.”
The Congress, which lost badly in the 1996 Assembly election after Rajini's famous political opinion against its then key ally All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), prudently reacted to Rajini's move. Party spokesperson and actor Khushbu Sundar tweeted, “Rajinikanth announces his political plunge... Anybody who thinks he can make a difference, has an ideology, aspires for harmonious India, feels the pain of losing secularism to communalism and dreams of a democratic India, should come to politics”.
Meanwhile, the AIADMK chose to play it safe and welcomed Rajinikanth into politics. “I don't want to pre-empt Rajinikanth's move but we do greet him into politics,” AIADMK spokesperson Apsara Reddy told CNN-News18. On the other hand, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) working president, MK Stalin said “I congratulate and welcome superstar Rajinikanth's entry into politics.” Cinema and politics have a swirly relationship with Tamil Nadu. Even though cinema has influenced Tamil politics, notably by turning actors into popular politicians, MGR and Jayalalithaa were active in politics before getting themselves involved in electioneering process. This makes Rajini’s arrival unique as he is planning to contest all 234 constituencies in the next Tamil Nadu Assembly election, due in 2021. This reverberates the entry of NT Rama Rao's in Andhra politics in 1982. Nine months after floating his Telugu Desam Party, he contested all Assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh and had a sweeping victory, winning 199 out of the 294 seats in the State Assembly. After this, NTR was sworn in as the tenth and the first non-Congress Chief Minister of the State.
A political feud between long-time treasurer MGR and DMK party president M Karunanidhi led to the split of DMK and the formation of AIADMK by MGR. After MGR's demise, with the support of a section of AIADMK leaders, Jayalalithaa came to the helm of party affairs and became the final word in AIADMK. If MGR and Jayalalithaa had to rise into political fame from the party staddle, Rajini does not have such hurdles. If Annadurai's Dravidianism and personal stardom supplemented MGR's and Jayalalithaa's political victory, Rajini has mass stardom in his kitty. NTR's massive win in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly election of 1983 can give positive vibes for Rajini's political stint.
Since Rajini does not stand under the shade of any political party or ideology, he is targeting his fans to be the base for his successful entry into politics. The top actor launched an Android mobile application ‘Rajini Mandram’ and a web page www.rajinimandram.org to enable people to become members of his fans association, which can be later transformed into a political outfit. But senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy on Sunday dismissed Rajinikanth's political entry as “media hype”, calling the actor “uneducated” and “corrupt”. He said, “The people of Tamil Nadu will not fall into Rajini fan clubs' song and dance. Fans club cannot become a political outfit.”
If preceding years' fragile and dysfunctional relationship with the superstar is pulling the Congress back from giving warm welcome to the superstar's political entry, support of 50 sitting AIADMK MPs in Parliament is preventing the BJP from making the enthusiastic and generous reception for the same. Rajini too might not want to get black marks of Hindutva and pro-North Indian identities by an open alliance with the BJP. Tamil Nadu, along with the entire country, is awaiting to see how the Indian democracy is going to answer to Rajini's announcement. Since Indian democracy is unpredictable with the eddying influence of caste, regional, cinema, ethnicity, language and other identities, we will have to wait and watch whether Superstar will triumph or fail in electioneering.
(The writer is UGC-JRF doctoral fellow, Department of Politics and International Studies, Pondicherry University)
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