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Rajinikanth’s timing is, as always, perfect: HT Editorial

Superstar Rajinikanth has announced that he will form a political party and contest all 234 assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu in the next elections.

editorials Updated: Dec 31, 2017 16:11 IST
Tamil actor Rajinikanth addresses his fans in Chennai.
Tamil actor Rajinikanth addresses his fans in Chennai.(PTI Photo)

In keeping with a never-ending and always-popular series of so-called Rajini jokes, 31 December 2017 was the day when the next assembly elections in Tamil Nadu were decided.

The elections aren’t due till 2021, although there is a strong likelihood of them happening earlier.

In politics as in dialogue delivery (and flipping-a-cigarette), timing is everything and Rajinikanth has always been a master of that. The almost universal reaction to his decision to enter politics, announced on Sunday, was that it would be a definite improvement over all the options currently on offer.

The DMK looks tired, the AIADMK is torn between factions, the Congress hasn’t been a force in the state in 50 years, and the BJP never was. Indeed, circa 2017, to voters in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth is likely to come across as a rare and refreshing fruit.

The political debut of the Superstar (it is always with a capital S in Rajinikanth’s case) has been spoken of for years, but the man himself has always stopped short of taking the plunge. In 1996 he backed the DMK against Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, resulting in a huge win for the party, but in recent years he has regretted that decision. Now, given the vacuum in Tamil politics given DMK leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s advanced years and Jayalalithaa’s demise, Rajinikanth perhaps senses that the time is right. Earlier this year, Kamal Haasan — the two actors for many years have been the twin poles of Tamil cinema, the Yin and the Yang — also announced his entry into politics, and that too may have forced Rajnikanth’s hand.

It would be foolish to look to his films for hints on Rajinikanth’s politics — in contrast, Kamal Haasan’s films do provide not just a hint of his, but also capture his changing political philosophy. What matters is that Rajinikanth is hugely popular in the state, seemingly acceptable to people across caste, class and economic groups (everyone calls him Thalaivar or leader already) and non-controversial. He also has a strong network of fan-clubs that provides a ready supply of political workers.

In some ways, it is interesting that, like MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa Jayaraman — the two most popular chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth isn’t from the state. Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, he is a Maharashtrian who worked as a bus conductor in Bangalore before making it big in Tamil films. Try beating that Dick Whittington.