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What Rajinikanth’s X factor could mean for Tamil Nadu politics

With a legion of diehard fans across the state and beyond, 800 registered fan associations and many unregistered ones, Rajinikanth has an enviable base of goodwill to feed off.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2018 11:38 IST
KV Lakshmana
Tamil actor Rajinikanth addresses his fans on the fourth day of his six-day-long session in Chennai, on Friday.
Tamil actor Rajinikanth addresses his fans on the fourth day of his six-day-long session in Chennai, on Friday. (PTI Photo)

The last two Sundays in succession have thrown up two disruptors in Tamil Nadu’s Dravidian political firmament.

If last Sunday belonged to sidelined AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran’s win in the RK Nagar by-election, the spotlight on the year-ending Sunday was on Tamil film superstar Rajinikanth’s political turn.

Both are challengers to the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK. There may, however, be a difference.

Dhinakaran is a known political entity and can be challenged as one, but Rajinikanth may not be as much of a conventional rival.

With a legion of diehard fans across the state and beyond, 800 registered fan associations and many unregistered ones, Rajinikanth has an enviable base of goodwill to feed off. What’s more, the timing of his political avatar appears impeccable at this point in time.

Ever since J Jayalalithaa passed away last year, Tamil Nadu has seen a political vacuum. Edapaddi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam found common ground to form the government, but Dhinakaran is laying claim to the Jayalalithaa legacy, even more so after his by-election win.

If the by-election loss was embarrassing for the ruling AIADMK, it was seen as even more damaging for the DMK, which was positioning itself as the government-in-waiting.

Rajinikanth has that indescribable X factor which will spice up state politics. To boot, his contemporary and fellow superstar Kamal Haasan’s speculated political turn is also making for a fascinating political script.

Star charisma may or may not be enough to propel Rajinikanth to the throne, but he can play a spoilsport and upset the traditional political applecart. He can potentially eat into the vote share of the two big parties. This is something that another actor-turned-politician, Vijayakanth, did before squandering it away.

This is what C Srinivasan, an avowed Rajinikanth fan, cited. “Even with Jayalalithaa and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi around, Vijayakanth marched away with a 10% vote share in 2006.”

Vijayakanth allied with Jayalalithaa in 2011 and his DMDK party won 29 assembly seats, relegating DMK to the third position.

Rajinikanth’s entry into politics could also have a bearing on national politics. Certain sections perceive him to be amenable to a tie-up, either formally or informally, with the BJP.

Prof Ramu Manivannan of Madras University said any such development would probably hurt Rajinikanth. “If the perception that he is like a front shop of the BJP gains ground in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth has more to lose.”

Political analyst John Arokiasamy felt Rajinikanth’s appeal could shape public perception that both AIADMK and the DMK were on the decline in the state.

DMK spokesperson A Sarvanan is quick to dismiss talk that Rajinikanth’s political entry will hurt his party. “First, he has to work hard in the field for five years to 10 years before he can think of seriously making a difference,” Sarvanan told a news channel.

However, no one is counting out the possibility that Rajinikanth can attract non-committed voters and also those seeking an alternative to the AIADMK and the DMK.

For Prof Manivannan, this is a time to wait and watch. “He (Rajinikanth) has only announced intention to enter politics. Let us wait and see how the party is built, what his ideology is, his approach to a host of issues, and what he will do for the people. Only after these things are clear can anything be made out of the announcement.”