Jayalalithaa’s resonating challenge at the Jayalalithaa’s resonating challenge at the 2014 hustings “Modi or Lady” resulted in the Lady routing Modi on her home turf. The BJP could not make headway in Tamil Nadu even during the 2016 Assembly polls. The AIADMK and chief opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) swept the polls.
The BJP was not the only National party of India that failed dismally in Tamil Nadu. Even the Congress party of the Gandhis and Nehrus which ruled in Tamil Nadu for 20 years after Independence from 1947 to 1967 has been unable to regain power in the South Indian state for the past 50 years. The “Dravidian” political ideology has been ruling the roost in Tamil Nadu. Either the DMK or its Alter Ego the AIADMK has been enjoying power in the state. Currently, the AIADMK is in the saddle though Jayalalithaa herself passed away in December 2016.
In a not so subtle bid to gain politically in Tamil Nadu, the BJP, currently, at the helm in New Delhi has been making several overtures to a popular Tamil film idol. 67-Year-old Rajinikanth or ”Superstar,” as he is known who is still the single most popular mass figure among actors in Tamil cinema.
PM Narendra Modi paid a courtesy call to Rajinikanth when he visited Tamil Nadu for the polls campaign in 2014. Rajinikanth was invited as a special guest for Modi’s inauguration as PM the same year. BJP’s Tamil Nadu state leader Dr.Thamizhisai Soundararajan has been calling on the actor several times. The lady doctor has even been cultivating the superstar’s spouse Latha Rajinikanth. The BJP has been trying very hard to entice him into its Saffron folds and utilise him as the vehicle to reach its destination of capturing state power in Tamil Nadu.
Interestingly enough Rajinikanth though the most popular actor in Tamil cinema is ethnically not a Tamil. He is not even a South Indian though born in Bangalore now known as Bengaluru. Rajinikanth is a Maratha whose family hails from Mavadi Kadepathar in the state of Maharashtra. His given name was Shivaji Rao Gaekwad. The Gaekwads are of Kshatriya warrior clan lineage. His family moved to Bangalore in the southern state of Karnataka during the British period. His father Ramoji Rao Gaekwad was a police constable. Rajini’s given name at birth Shivaji Rao was derived from the legendary Maratha warrior-king “ Chatrapathi Shivaji”.
Encouraged by his colleagues and friends, he enrolled at the MGR Govt. Film and Television Training Institute in Madras (Chennai) in 1973 for a two-year course in acting. He passed out in 1975 and was soon provided a major break by renowned Tamil film director K. Balachander, who gave him three minor roles in three consecutive movies. Shivaji Rao renamed as Rajinikanth made his film debut playing a very small but significant role in Balachander’s “Abhoorva Raagangal” (rare melodies) in 1975.
"His stock began to rise from 1980 onwards and very soon the ex-bus conductor’s movies began breaking box-office records. He was dubbed as the “Super Star” of Tamil cinema."
K. Balachander continued to give Rajinikanth roles in the Tamil and Telugu films directed by him. Other film makers too followed suit. In the early stages, Rajinikanth played somewhat negative roles. But gradually he began getting positive roles. Soon he started playing lead roles. Rajinikanth began captivating film goers with his smart appearance, stylish movements, novel mannerisms, rapid manner of dialogue delivery and a stirking penchant for uttering punchy one-liners. His stock began to rise from 1980 onwards and very soon the ex-bus conductor’s movies began breaking box-office records. He was dubbed as the “Super Star” of Tamil cinema.
Rajinikanth has in a career spanning more than four decades, acted in 165 movies.
Over a 100 of these were in Tamil but the dusky demi-god has acted in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam movies as well. Rajinikanth has acted in one English movie titled “Bloodstone”. Most of his movies has been money spinner running to packed houses for weeks and weeks. He was arguably the highest paid actor in Indian filmdom and is reportedly paid over 500 million Indian rupees and a share of the profits for a film. Rajinikanth is married to Latha Rangachchaari, a Tamil Brahmin Iyengar woman. They have two daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya and three grandchildren.
Rajinikanth is a devout Hindu and a follower of the philosophy propounded by the miracle-working, scholarly Saint, Shree Ragavendhra Swami. Not only has Rajini named the wedding hall which he owns in Chennai as “Ragavendhra Kalyana Mandapam” but has also acted as the holy man in his 100th movie “Sri Ragavendhrar” released in 1985. Moreover, Rajinikanth has a custom of withdrawing frequently to the Himalayas and engaging in meditation.
He is also a devotee of Shree Sabarimalai Aiyappan hill temple in Kerala. He has never hesitated to speak publicly about his religious and spiritual beliefs. Also the actor endorsed the BJP-AIADMK combine in one election without joining party ranks. This, in turn, has created an impression - unfairly perhaps - that Rajinikanth is a kindred soul of the ultra-Hindu rightist “Hindutva” school of thought. The BJP, being a pro-Hindu political party, opposed to secularism perceives Rajinikanth as a fellow traveller and has been trying to make him a full-time party leader in Tamil Nadu.
“It is unclear as to what Rajinikanth will do because he has vacillated several times in the past on this issue (joining BJP). Regardless of what Rajinikanth may or may not do, what is of interest here is that even a national party reigning at the centre is being compelled to seek the services of a popular movie star to galvanise itself and capture political power in the state. This is due to the peculiar course of politics in Tamil Nadu, where the influence of cinema on politics has been of a phenomenal nature. Popular film personalities have enjoyed great support among the masses. The impact of cinema has been so great that one may very well quip that the way to a Tamil Nadu voter’s heart is through moving images on the screen. How this situation came about is a bizarrely unique story”.
‘It is against this backdrop, that the BJP is now wooing Rajinikanth. Thus, the peculiar Tamil phenomenon of “movie politics” continues to dominate state politics and also impact on national politics as a whole. But with the dilution of Dravidian politics over the years, there is some expectation that the dominance of cinema in politics may get progressively weaker. This possibility, however, may be offset by the increasing Rajinikanth hype in the state. He is the reigning Tamil superstar, whose hold over the masses is reminiscent of that of MGR’s.
He has a massive fan club behind him, which is exerting enormous pressure on him to enter active politics. At present, he has adopted a neutral stance, but may change his mind if enticed successfully. Unlike the earlier Dravidian film-star turned politicians, Rajinikanth has a spiritual streak in him and takes his religion seriously. Analysts predict that if he enters the fray, it may be on a Hindu nationalist platform, either in alliance with or as an integral part of the BJP”.
"I cannot do it alone. All Tamil people have to come together and support me. I know it will not be easy to contest elections and win. It is like diving into the deep seas for pearls"
“Given Rajinikanth’s current popularity and the continuing scenario of film stars dominating electoral politics, there is every likelihood that Tamil cinema will continue to hold sway over the region’s political future. Rajinikanth, however, signifies more than a mere continuum. The bus conductor from Bangalore is a shining example of individual achievement. As the superstar himself said in one of his movies (Baba) he would be “Late ‘Aa Vandhalum latest ‘Aa Varuvaen!”(Even if I come late, I shall be the latest).
The above quoted paragraphs are excerpted from what I wrote in these columns in 2014 about Rajinikanth entering politics in Tamil Nadu.
However, after years of dilly-dallying, oodles of guessing games and perceived vacillation, the D-day for decision taking arrived at last. Rajinikanth announced his entry into politics and though somewhat “late” became the “latest star” to do so in Tamil Nadu.
Rajinikanth, has for some time, been inviting his fans in batches to Chennai and seeking their views on whether he should enter politics and whether he should form his own party or not. On the last day of the last year (Dec 31, 2017) office -bearer representatives of Rajinikanth’s fan club network were summoned for an important meeting at the wedding hall owned by the actor in T’Nagar, Chennai - Ragavendhra Kalyana Mandapam. While thousands of fans along with hordes of media personnel waited the magic moment with bated breath, Rajinikanth walked on stage clad in his customary white Kurta and Pajamas.
"To those of you who are giving me life, people of Tamil Nadu, friends in the media, those who are watching me on TV, my love and wishes to you. First, I don’t know how to praise my fans. anyone."
“To those of you who are giving me life, people of Tamil Nadu, friends in the media, those who are watching me on TV, my love and wishes to you. First, I don’t know how to praise my fans. All of you have been disciplined, without disturbing anyone. This discipline is enough, we can achieve anything”.
“I am not scared of entering politics; but I am scared of the media.
Even big shots tremble with fear while facing the media, but I am still a baby, imagine how it is for me? Whenever I enter or leave my home, they shove their microphones and ask me questions. If I say anything, it becomes a debate.”
“Now, I will come to the point. “Karmanye Vaadhika-raste, Maa Phaleshu Kadachana,” Krishna told Arjuna in Kurukshetra (Mahabharata). “You do your duty; I will take care of the rest. Go to war, if you win you will rule. If you die, you will die as a hero. If you don’t go to war, they will call you a coward. I have already finished everything. I just have to shoot the arrow.”
“I am not entering politics for money or fame. You have given that to me beyond my dreams, more than 1000 times and over. If I wanted political status, I could have taken the throne in 1996 itself. I declined it, saying I don’t want it. When I did not desire power at 45, do you think I would, when I am 65? If I did, am I not a mad man? Will I be eligible to call myself a spiritual person?
"At this point, if I don’t take decisive action, the guilt that I did not even attempt to do something good in a democratic manner for the people who have given me life, will haunt me till my death"
“So, if not for political power, then for what else? Politics has become very rotten. Democracy has decayed. The political events in Tamil Nadu in the past year have made every person hang his/her head in shame. People from every other state are laughing at us.”
“At this point, if I don’t take decisive action, the guilt that I did not even attempt to do something good in a democratic manner for the people who have given me life, will haunt me till my death. It has to be changed, everything has to be changed. The time for political change has come. System has to be changed. We need truthful, honest, principled and transparent politics; not influenced by caste or religion. We need a spiritual politics (Aanmeeha Arasiyal). That is my goal, my desire and my aim.”
“I cannot do it alone. All Tamil people have to come together and support me. I know it will not be easy to contest elections and win. It is like diving into the deep seas for pearls. Only if we have the grace of God, the love, trust, respect and support of people, we can achieve this. I am fully confident that we will get the grace of God and the support of people.”
“In olden days, when Kings go to war and win, they plunder the coffers of the enemy. The commanders and soldiers will loot the people. Today, in the name of democracy people are being looted by politicians. They come to power and cheat people in several ways. Kings used to plunder foreign countries, here our politicians plunder our own country. This has to be changed, and it has to be changed democratically.”
I want protectors who ensure that if we come to power, the people get what they are entitled to. I want protectors who do not go to MLA, MPs or officers out of self-interest. I want protectors who hold party workers, leaders and officers accountable, when we come to power.”
"I’ll be the people’s representative who will keep the protectors in check. I’ll be the representative of the people, who will select the right person for the right position at the right time"
“I will be the people’s representative who will keep the protectors in check. I will be the representative of the people, who will select the right person for the right position at the right time. We need an army or protectors for this, and we need to create it. I have several thousand fan clubs, in village and cities all across the state. The unregistered ones are twice as many. We need to get the unregistered clubs registered, and unite them all together.
This is an important task, and our first task.”
“This is not cinema, this is politics. It is not enough if we change; we need to bring others on board, including youngsters, women and children. Every corner of the state should have our club. This is our first task. Then we have to prepare for the democratic challenge with discipline and decorum. Till then, let’s not talk politics, this includes me. Don’t criticise other political leaders and parties until then. Don’t get into political activism. There are others who are there for that. There are already people in the political lake, and they have to swim otherwise they will drown. We know how to swim, but let’s not swim on the ground. When we get into the pond, we will swim.”
“We will prepare our Army, and right before the state elections, we will launch the party, tell the people our plan of action, tell them what we can do and what we can’t, and if we cannot do what we promised, we will resign within 3 years. Truth, hard work and progress are our motto. My principle is to think good, speak good and do good, and good things will happen. Our army will be there in the next state assembly elections. Long Live Tamil Nadu, may the Tamil people progress. Jai Hind.”
A unique feature of the relationship between the movie stars of the Indian south and their fans is the proliferation of fan clubs (Rasikar Mandrangal). These clubs would hold special poojas in temples whenever a new movie of their matinee idol was released. Milk would be poured on cut-outs of actors and camphor lit. The clubs held annual conventions and also participated in social service projects. “Superstar” Rajinikanth too has an enormous fan club network.
So huge was it that the super star stopped sanctioning and “officially” registering fan clubs since 1996-97. At that time there were over 50,000 fan clubs with a minimum membership of at least 25 each. Though Rajinikanth stopped sanctioning fan clubs since 1997, did not deter his fans from continuing to form fan clubs. This has resulted in thousands of “unofficial” Rajinikanth fan clubs with millions of members being set up in the past 20 years.
The official and unofficial fan clubs together comprise a formidable force. Rajinikanth’s first task after announcing his political entry has been the formal regularisation of these fan clubs both official and unofficial into one entity called “Rajini Mandram” (Rajini Forum). New entrants are invited to apply. Already the actor has a secretary and staff to coordinate his fan clubs. Now the staffs have been further enhanced and functions broad based.
A web site has been started in the name of Rajini Mandram to register members. It is said the new membership numbers have topped a million already.
Rajinikanth streamlining and developing his fan clubs into a single co-ordinated entity indicates that the superstar is emulating former Tamil Nadu chief minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) who transformed his fan clubs into party branches when he started his own political party. Rajinikanth is also going to transform his fan clubs into party branches when the time comes. He has not decided on a name for the envisaged party yet. It appears that the party logo would be a clenched fist with the fore finger and little finger thrust upwards. This is a famous gesture of Rajinikanth first introduced in the film “Baba”.
In the past, there have been many false alarms about Rajinikanth entering politics. In 2002, for instance, Rajinikanth acted in a film called “Baba”. The film story was narrated in a mode encouraging the political entry of Rajinikanth. A popular song “Shakthi Kodu” (Grant me strength) was sung by the playback singer Karthik while Rajini lip synched.
The song was a virtual political declaration. In that song Rajini sang that he would not waver once he had decided and that he would not step back after he had stepped forward. However “Baba” flopped and the actor flipped. He abandoned his proposed political entry. There was a lot of hoopla about the actor getting into politics then but everything petered out with the superstar backtracking. This time however things seem to be different. After years of indecision and procrastination, Rajinikanth seems to have decided finally to take the plunge into politics.
The first political party to hail the move was - quite unsurprisingly - the BJP. The BJP Central Govt state minister of Finance and Shipping from Tamil Nadu Pon. Radhakrishnan and BJP Tamil Nadu state leader Dr. (Ms) Thamizhisai Soundararajan issued statements welcoming Rajinikanth’s advent into active politics on Sunday Dec 31 itself. The Tamil Nadu BJP welcomed Rajinikanth’s decision to start a political party with State president of the party, Dr. Soundararajan, praising his aim of eradicating corruption in Tamil Nadu, through his political entry.
This was but natural as the ultra-right Hindu nationalist forces known as the “Sangh Parivaar” (Family of Associations/Groups) had been hoping for long to ride to power in Tamil Nadu by hitching the “Hindutva” wagon to the Rajinikanth star. The Hindu-right forces hoping to ride piggy back on Rajini are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the allied Sangh Parivar comprising Hindu nationalist organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu Munnani (HM).
The Hindutva movement hopes to absorb Rajinikanth into their ranks after the actor launches his party. The BJP is likely to align with Rajinikanth’s party in electoral politics first and then gradually draw him in further. The BJP is on the lookout for an acceptable “new face” to lead a joint front in Tamil Nadu and Rajinikanth with his “Aanmeeha Arasiyal” (spiritual politics) seems to fit the bill perfectly. Rajini clarified that he meant “Honesty and Transparency” devoid of caste and religion by the term “Spiritual politics”.
However not everyone from the BJP camp was elated over Rajinikanth. BJP “maverick” parliamentarian Dr. Subramanian Swamy had a different take on the matter. Speaking to the news agency ANI, Swamy said, “He (Rajinikanth) has only announced that he is entering politics. He had no details or documents. He is illiterate. It is only media hype. The people of Tamil Nadu are intelligent.” Dr. Swamy further added that he will ‘expose’ Rajini. Speaking to reporters, he said, “Rajini is an uneducated man. What will he tell us? This is a just an age-old story of another Tamil actor joining politics. I will always oppose Rajinikanth.”
Dr. Swamy added further “This is a joke, Tamil Nadu requires something serious. The mood in Tamil Nadu is to get rid of all the film stars in politics. Rajini is entering politics at the wrong time and place. He should be worried, in fact that his entire black money trail will come into the limelight. The people of Tamil Nadu will not fall into Rajini fan clubs’ song and dance. Fans club cannot become a political outfit.”
Subramanian Swamy’s derisive dismissal of Rajinikanth’s political future and his assertion that film star fan clubs cannot become a political outfit evokes a sense of Deja Vu. In 1972, the actor-politico MG Ramachandran known by the magic letters MGR broke away from the DMK which was ruling Tamil Nadu then. The Chief Minister at that time Mutthuvelar Karunanidhi was himself a drama actor, playwright and cinema script writer and lyricist.
As stated earlier, a unique feature of the relationship between the movie stars of the Indian south and their fans was the fan club network. MGR had been encouraging the phenomenon of MGR fan clubs from late 1940s onwards, and the clubs ended up as a well-knit federation that counted its membership in the millions. When MGR entered active politics, his fan clubs were in turn politicised and soon became an indispensable component of the DMK propaganda machine.
In MGR’s case both spheres mutually reinforced each other - film popularity providing political mileage and political positions strengthening film popularity. It was not long before MGR was rewarded with political office. MGR was made first an Upper House member of the state legislature. Later he contested the State Assembly elections directly and won continuously in each election from 1967 to 1985 until his death in 1987.
The DMK first formed the administration in Madras state re-named by the party as Tamil Nadu in 1967. The popularity of MGR within the DMK party and Tamil Nadu state caused major convulsions. In a bid to counteract the phenomenon, the then CM Karunanidhi encouraged his son M.K. Muthu to enter movies. The father, while in office as CM, wrote the story and dialogue for Muthu’s first film ‘Pillaiyo Pillai’ (Oh, What a Son) in 1972. Muthu fan clubs were set up overnight, with father Karunanidhi’s backing.
MGR, realising what was in store, engineered a split within the party in 1972 on the grounds of corruption charges against the incumbent DMK regime which he was part of. Incidentally, MGR did not have any problems in setting up new party structures - he merely converted his fan clubs into party branches. MGR formed the Anna-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (ADMK) after splitting from the DMK in 1972. He later amended it to All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK).
MGR incurred much mirth among political pundits when he stated that his party ideology was a blend of “capitalism, socialism and communism”. MGR had the last laugh on his detractors when his party romped home as winners in 1977. MGR became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. His followers who dubbed him earlier as “Puratchi Nadigar” or ‘Revolutionary Actor’ now hailed him as “Puratchy Thalaiver” (Revolutionary Leader). MGR was elected Chief Minister again in 1980 and 1985 after his party won at the polls. He died in harness as Chief Minister in 1987.
Given this successful MGR precedent, there is every chance that Dr. Subramanian Swamy may be proved wrong by Rajinikanth. As in the case of MGR, Rajini too is aiming to mount an anti-corruption campaign to cleanse public life in Tamil Nadu. The irony in this is that both MGR and Rajinikanth - as film actors - were/are part of systemic corruption in the state.
The film industry thrives on “black money” and actors get paid a nominal sum legally and large amounts of cash illegally. It is part of the film production system.
Therefore it is indeed ironic when actors who got rich on black money claim to clean up the system. MGR’s rule eventually surpassed his predecessor Karunaidhi’s rule in Corruption. The corruption which prevailed under MGR paled into insignificance when compared to his successor Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who too was an ex-film artiste. Thus Rajinikanth professing to clean up Tamil Nadu and bring about a ‘corruption free Tamil Nadu’ has to be taken not merely with a pinch of salt but a whole fistful.
"A main reason for Rajinikanth’s announcement now is that the political climate seems ripe for his entry. AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa Jayaram has passed away and her party though ruling the state has fractured into four factions led by ex-CM O.S. "
A main reason for Rajinikanth’s announcement now is that the political climate seems ripe for his entry. AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa Jayaram has passed away and her party though ruling the state has fractured into four factions led by ex-CM O.S. Panneerselvam, present CM Edappaadi Palaniswamy, Jayalalithaa’s “Uyir Thozhi” (life friend) Sasikala Natarajan (currently in jail) who was also appointed AIADMK interim General Secretary and Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar. The BJP central govt has “unified” the Panneerselvam-Palaniswamy factions temporarily and is manipulating the AIADMK state govt like a puppet on a string.
The recent by-election at RK Nagar saw Sashikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran contesting as an independent defeating both the AIADMK and DMK candidates. It’s a fragile situation for the AIADMK administration in Tamil Nadu. CM Palaniswamy’s days are numbered.
The DMK too is not doing well. Party leader and former CM Karunanidhi, who is 94 years of age, and ailing and confined to a wheel chair. The one time powerful orator who has led the DMK from 1969 has lost his powers of speech. Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin has donned the leadership mantle but there are strong doubts whether he can deliver. The recent RK Nagar by election was a shock to the DMK. It was expected that the DMK would win because the AIADMK votes were split among the official candidates and the dissident independent candidate. In spite of split votes, the independent candidate came first and AIADMK candidate second. DMK finished a poor third. Of course the “cash for votes” syndrome was rampant.
Attempts by smaller parties including the leftists to form a common front as a third alternative failed miserably at the 2016 polls. Casteist parties have a community vote bank but are unable to transcend those barriers. The BJP and Congress have again and again demonstrated that their national appeal does not work in Tamil land. Against that backdrop it could be surmised that a political leadership vacuum exists in the state. There is a need for change from 50 years of Dravidian politics. Rajinikanth with his millions of fans may very well step in and become a political force to be reckoned with.
At least five persons connected to cinema have been Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers in the past. CN Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi wrote film scripts for films. MGR, his wife Janaki and paramour Jayalalithaa acted on screen. In that context, Rajinikanth in the future could become the sixth Tamil Nadu CM with a cinematic background. Nothing however is certain because actors like Sivaji Ganesan, Bhagyaraj, Ramarajan, Sarathkumar, Seeman and Vijaykanth could not become as successful as actors MGR and Jayalalithaa were in politics and reach the pinnacle.
There is also the fact that Rajinikanth is neither a Tamil nor a South Indian. The Keralite MGR grew up in Tamil Nadu and was active in politics for decades before forming a party and becoming CM. Besides Malayalam is a Dravidian language. Rajinikanth is a non-Dravidian Maratha whose origins are from the Maharashtra state and is one who grew up in Karnataka. Also Rajinikanth has not been engaging in active politics or public life as MGR did for years Rajinikanth moved to Tamil Nadu only to foster his film career. He is virtually a “parachutist” in the political milieu of Tamil Nadu. It is doubtful whether the “outsider” Rajinikanth with his brand of spiritual politics (Aanmeeha Arasiyal) will be welcomed by the more ethno-nationalist Tamils of the stare.
It is however too early to gauge the chances of Rajinikanth becoming the future CM of Tamil Nadu. He must form and register his political party and outline his principles and policies first. Furthermore it remains to be seen whether Rajinikanth will align himself with the BJP or not. Tamil nationalists and secularists fear that the Hindu ultra-right elements would utilise the “spiritual politics” of Rajinikanth as a Trojan horse to establish themselves in “Dravidian” Tamil Nadu. Even though Rajinikanth fans are ecstatic, there is likely to be strong backlash against the actor if and when he contests polls.
Under these circumstances the question of whether Tamil Superstar Rajinikanth will become the CM of Tamil Nadu or not cannot be answered conclusively at this juncture. One certainty is that the entry of Rajinikanth into politics will electrify the political climate of Tamil Nadu. Whether he becomes CM or not, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad alias Rajinikanth will remain a significant and influential “Thalaivar” (Leader) in the Tamil Nadu political scene.