Will He, Won’t He?
Superstar Rajinikanth keeps everyone guessing about his political debut
God will decide, Rajinikanth says, when he will join politics. “He wants me to be an actor now. If he wants me to be something else, I will play that part as well,” he adds. But the 66-year-old Tamil superstar was clearly hedging, not prepared to spell out his plans just yet.
He dropped many hints while interacting with crowds of doting fans over five days—May 15 to 19—in Chennai. “I’m a pachai Tamizhan (true Tamilian),” Rajinikanth grandly declared on the concluding day, while exhorting followers to brace for a battle to usher in change. After four hugely successful decades as an actor, he’s now evidently gearing up to follow actor-politicians like M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalithaa into politics.
Many believe now would be a great moment for Rajinikanth to take the plunge. Things are looking uncertain in both the mainstream Dravid-
ian parties—the AIADMK afflicted by intense factionalism in the wake of Jayalalithaa’s demise, and growing concerns in the DMK given the failing health of party patriarch M. Karunanidhi.
The actor told fans that he’s looking for systemic change. “We have good leaders like (M.K.) Stalin, Anbumani (Ramadoss) and Seeman, but what do we do when the system is bad? When democracy has deteriorated?” Rajini asked while carefully avoiding any negative personal references. “I have my profession, my job. I have some responsibilities and you have your jobs. Go back to your places and do your job. Let’s meet when it’s time for battle,” he said to them.
That Rajinikanth is looking to activate his extensive and highly committed fan club is obvious. Analysts believe he could go with either of two options— launch a new political party like N.T. Rama Rao did with the Telugu Desam Party in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh in 1982, or join hands with the BJP, which wants to establish more than just a presence in Tamil Nadu.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue and Thuglak editor S. Gurumurthy says, “The fact that Rajini said he will keep out the wrong people if he forms a party means he has specific intentions in mind.” State BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan, too, has lauded Rajinikanth’s statements. Of course, the BJP knows the superstar’s backing would give the party’s prospects a massive boost. Rajini’s iconic status could bring in a big chunk of young and women voters to their fold.
But Tamil Nadu Congress president Su. Thirunavukkarasar, who’s known the actor for 35 years, says Rajini is unlikely to join any party. “He’ll start one of his own,” says the Congress leader. Mainstream politicians in the state are clearly wary of Rajinikanth’s arrival on the political scene. PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss says, “Tamil Nadu doesn’t need another actor-leader; we need an educated leader.” Others even accused Rajinikanth of periodically using politics to promote his films. Whichever way he decides to go, it’s eminently clear that Thalaiva (‘leader’, as fans address Rajini) will have the last laugh.
THALAIVA, THALAIVA Rajini with fans in Chennai last week