Rajni's spiritual wave
To succeed in Tamil Nadu politics, the superstar must display compelling vision
Tamil superstar Rajinikanth's punch line in his super hit film Kabaali is, "Naan Vandthttenu chollu" (Tell them I have come). On Sunday, wearing a spotless white kurta and pants, Rajinikanth announced to his million fans: "My entry into politics is certain," thus ending the two-decade-long suspense. He is not the first megastar who had chosen to do so, he is preceded by MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalithaa, Captain Vijayakant among others. Even the former DMK chief ministers CN Annadurai and M Karunanidhi had come from the film world.
Tamil Nadu, a state driven by personality politics, currently lacks a charismatic leader. The political landscape has changed significantly with Jayalalithaa and Kalaignar out of the picture, but it's still a tough game. He knows this as he had said recently: "I am hesitant in entering politics, as I am aware of the pitfalls. I am not new to politics. I know its depths. I have been watching politics closely since 1996. If I enter politics, I will have to win."
The question is will Rajinikanth be a success in politics? While some believe that he would make a revolution and become the chief minister after the next elections; there are others who think that he might burn his fingers the same way superstars like Shivaji Ganesan, Amitabh Bachchan, Chiranjeevi and others have done. The right time was in 1996 when he could have formed a party and swept the polls to become chief minister, as he was younger and much healthier then to take on the challenges of politics, they argue. Also, he is a political novice and is still untested. It is hard to keep count of the number of times Rajinikanth has "indicated" that he would enter politics. But perhaps due to the pressure from his fan clubs and also the BJP, which wants to ride piggyback on him, he might have announced his decision on Sunday.
Second, what is his vision? He has not spelt it out so far. He has used a strange phrase: "Jaadhi madham illaadhaa anmiga arasiyal" (Spiritual politics without communalism or casteism). In a state dominated by Dravidian politics, Rajinikanth's over-emphasis on religion and spirituality, both on and off the screen, makes one wonder whether he might lean towards the BJP. If not Dravidian ideology, what does he represent? Tamil Nadu is known for its identity politics with several caste-based parties existing in the state like Pattali Makkal Katchi. Also, the DMK and AIADMK are the established parties with committed cadres and also committed vote banks of about 30 per cent each.
Third and more importantly, Rajini is talking of contesting in all the 234 seats in the next Assembly polls, making it clear that his aim is not the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Elections are a costly affair involving crores of rupees on electioneering. Does he have the capacity to raise money for not only running his party but also for contesting elections, that too against the DMK and the AIADMK, which have huge funds?
Fourth, what kind of people will join his new party? So far no other credible politician has even hinted at giving him support except another novice superstar Kamal Haasan. He needs a group of efficient and politically savvy people around him. Right now, Rajini has only his fan clubs and even they need to be organised. Cadres have to be raised, offices have to be set up, and a million tasks need to be accomplished. All these will have to be done without any earlier foundations to bank upon other than his films. He needs good candidates if he is looking at the elections. He must learn a lesson or two from what happened to the Aam Aadmi Party, which was a big electoral success but did not attract enough credible faces.
Fifth, hardly anything is known about his intellectual capacity and his understanding of crucial social and political problems. No one knows his views on economic and foreign policy. What will be his new narrative to get him votes?
Sixth, Rajini has no proven ability for administration. So, on what basis can one expect that he will be able to meet the governance challenge? He needs to find a good team to bridge this gap like the Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik has done for the past two decades. Rajini has declared, "We will resign if we do not deliver on our promises within three years."
Seventh and importantly, while he has a good mass appeal and crowd-pulling capacity, can he convert them into votes? This is a million dollar question. But despite all these, Rajini might prove to be a success like MGR and Jayalalithaa if Dame Luck smiles at him. After all, he has journeyed to become a superstar from his humble beginning as a bus conductor in Bengaluru.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)