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Rajinikanth may have entered politics, but he still has a long way to go

Both experts and political parties believe the actor will have to do a lot of ground work and convince the voting public about his motivations to make it big in Tamil Nadu.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2018 17:57 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Rajinikanth,Tamil Nadu politics,Kollywood
Film star Rajinikanth gestures at his fans after announcing his intention to enter politics, in Chennai on Sunday.(AP Photo)

Rajinikanth is only the latest in a long list of actors to enter politics in Tamil Nadu, a state known to place its film stars on a pedestal.

Will he emerge successful in his political endeavour? One must look at the close relationship Kollywood has shared with Tamil Nadu politics through the years to answer that question.

MG Ramachandran (or MGR, as he is better known) and J Jayalalithaa, two great stars, successfully took up politics to become chief ministers of Tamil Nadu. However, theirs was no easy journey to the top. They had to slog it out on the field, winning perception as well as electoral battles against much fancied opponents to finally emerge triumphant.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) founder CN Annadurai was a scriptwriter, but he still managed to garner enough clout to become the party’s first chief minister. The same was the case with incumbent DMK president M Karunanidhi, who occupied the hot seat on five occasions since 1969.

Both Karunanidhi and Annadurai were individuals steeped in the Dravidian movement, with strong ideological moorings.

MGR – a Keralite by origin – broke away from the DMK to form the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and later become the chief minister. He managed to replicate his onscreen persona of the ideological do-gooder on the political scene, turning Tamil Nadu into a welfare state and becoming a legend for generations to come. MGR first became the chief minister in 1977, and continued in the position until his death.

Jayalalithaa had to wage a prolonged war of succession against MGR’s wife, Janaki (also a film star), becoming the leader of the opposition over five years after his death. Only after proving her political prowess on the electoral battlefield could she become the chief minister.

There have been failures from Kollywood too, and high on the list is Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founder ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth – who could not even retain his own seat in the 2016 elections. MGR’s contemporary Sivaji Ganesan also floated his own party, only to fail miserably.

Vijayakanth had witnessed political success in his initial days, when he launched the DMDK in 2005 and notched up to 10% of the vote share in Tamil Nadu. Later, in the 2011 elections, he even teamed up with Jayalalithaa to win 29 seats and become the opposition leader with cabinet minister status. However, he soon fell out with Jayalalithaa and walked out of the political alliance. He contested the 2016 elections on his own but failed to retain any of his 29 seats.

“Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that Vijayakanth worked hard as a politician for five years before finally launching his political party. Another five years went by before he became the opposition leader,” says Jhon Arokiasamy, perception strategist and political analyst, adding that Rajinikanth also needs to work hard on the field to prove himself.

Arokiasamy believes that perception is based on ground reality. “People may start looking at Rajinikanth differently the moment he enters politics. He will be judged as a leader going by what he stands for, and what he does,” he adds.

Professor Ramu Manivannan from Madras University is harsher in his assessment. “I don’t see Rajinikanth as an alternative,” he says. “The superstar, unfortunately, happens to be a part of the very decay he talks about. He has cosied up to the powerful so far, and now that a vacuum has opened up in the political space, we see him stepping up to occupy it.”

Manivannan feels that any film star can draw crowds, but it is the work he does on the ground that matters in the long run. On that count, he finds both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan – another actor on the verge of joining politics – sorely wanting.

Haasan had stolen a march on Rajinikanth by announcing his intention to enter politics, and even launching an app to fight corruption. But, after the initial buzz, he shifted gears and re-immersed himself in movies.

Arokiaswamy recalls the numerous instances in the past when Rajinikanth seemed set to enter politics. “On those occasions, his hints more-or-less coincided with film releases. However, he does seem serious this time,” he says.

Rajinikanth’s next film, Robot 2, is all set for a grand release next year.

Though the superstar’s decision was welcomed by political parties in the state, many pointed out that he was still a long way from launching his own outfit.

“I congratulate Rajinikanth, he has finally put an end to his fans’ expectations. (However) His entry will not have any kind of positive or negative impact on our fortunes,” DMK working president MK Stalin said soon after the announcement.

The BJP – specifically state unit president Tamilsai Soundararajan and Union minister of state Pon Radhakrishnan – hoped Rajinikanth would back the saffron agenda in the upcoming general elections. “We welcome Rajinikanth’s decision to enter politics. Corruption-free India and good governance is the sole aim of the BJP too,” said Soundararajan.

However, BJP politician Subramanian Swamy did not believe niceties were warranted in the circumstances. “Rajinikanth is an illiterate person with no clear agenda to fight corruption in Tamil Nadu. Has he announced the party name? Let him, and then I will expose him,” he said.

First Published: Jan 01, 2018 11:55 IST