By Madhulika Gupta
Superstar Rajinikanth marked his maiden public speech by announcing his ‘definite’ political endeavours while he unveiled a statue of superstar and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran (MGR). Speaking at the Dr MGR Educational and Research Institute in Chennai, Thalaiva—as Rajini is popularly known—was received by a sea of fans en route to the event.
In a way, Rajinikanth tried to channel the superstar status MGR had acquired over decades in Kollywood and then in politics. MGR gave the public something they could feel emotionally, which turned out to be a smart way to further his political agenda. Many deem Rajinikanth’s first public speech as an unofficial political launch, but there has not yet been any formal announcement.
“I promise good governance & spiritual politics”
After Rajinikanth unveiled MGR’s statue in Chennai, his 30-odd minutes address to students and the public that had gathered was met with applauds. He started off by paying tribute to MGR while making sure to highlight that he was not merely using MGR as a bridge to his own future career. Rajinikanth claimed that he was entering politics mainly because the incumbent government and its leaders have not been doing their job.
According to Rajini, Tamil Nadu lacks strong political leaders and needs someone who will follow the ‘good governance’ model that MGR had pioneered. He attributed the political vacuum in the state to the death of CM J Jayalalitha and the physical decline of the DMK’s M Karunanidhi. Rajini affirmed that he was ready to fill the political void that had emerged.
The actor, who was aggressive at points while addressing the crowd about how Tamil Nadu has been plagued by dirty politics, was also calm and serene when he talked about ushering in a new ‘spiritual politics’. Speaking to the who’s who of the research industry, Rajinikanth insisted more than once that he felt no one in the state was like MGR and no one could play the role he had, but he was willing to try to replicate his policies and practice good governance.
“Hope Rajini’s colour not Saffron”
Notably, Rajini asked the student fraternities to stay away from politics while delivering the speech in a room packed with college-goers. This is in sharp contrast to how the newbie politician Kamal Haasan met with college students on the very same morning and asked them directly to join his party. Both actors, who have embraced politics within weeks of each other, have always steered clear of criticising each other or commenting on each other’s moves. By asking college students to join his political party, Haasan has put himself on a different political path to Rajini.
Haasan, however, made a startling statement a few days ago when he congratulated Rajinikanth on his political journey and wished him well, but also said that he “hoped” that Rajinikanth’s colour was not saffron. Given how South India’s Dravidian politics has generally eschewed saffronisation, the statement was clearly meant as a political jab. However, Rajinikanth made no reference to the BJP or DMK, or even PM Modi’s recent visit to Karunanidhi. This can be read as a sign of the actor’s indecisiveness when it comes to DMK or BJP. Thus it is premature to say if he will ally with any other political party.
Rajinikanth also took a very personal approach, praising stalwarts in state politics such as MGR, Jayalalitha, and the actor-turned-politician Sivaji Ganeshan while criticising the ruling AIADMK. This is in contrast to Kamal Haasan, who has only talked about hard political issues facing the state and has refrained from naming names.
Building a political image for a superstar
Even before announcing his decision to join the political arena, there was extensive debate about the success Rajinikanth would enjoy if and when he decided to make a political debut. Translating his stardom into votes will not be a difficult task for the superstar. Even Kamal Haasan did not receive such an overwhelming rush of support when he launched his political party in Madurai earlier in February. Rajinikanth is a ‘son of the land’ who is loved by young and seasoned voters alike.
Nevertheless, building a political image from his current image is going to be a Herculean task for the superstar. Just like every other actor-turned-politician, Rajini will launch his political career with a new political party, which will give his political career a leg up. That being said, every new politician needs to learn the nuances of the trade, to which Rajini is still a stranger.
Ramu Manivannan, head of the department of politics at the University of Madras, considers Rajinikanth akin to a kite that is being flown by his invisible handlers in Delhi. This is the perception that Rajini will have to fight against. The people of Tamil Nadu, who consider themselves as a separate Dravida race, will be dead against voting for a party that is too closely aligned to the government in Delhi. If Rajini decides to align with one of these parties, voters may well ditch Rajini.
Moreover, the superstar will need a political agenda if he is to do well in the election. Ultimately, the electorate will not vote for him only because he is a superstar. Until now, Rajini has not announced any hard goals. There have been vague promises of good governance and spiritual politics, but both voters and fellow politicians know that states do not run on spiritual appeals alone.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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