Chennai: Rajinikanth's rise from a bus conductor to a versatile actor and then the Superstar of the Tamil filmdom was quick and dazzling, but his brush with politics, that is quite rustic in nature, is expected to be no less of a roller coaster ride for which the legendary actor needs to display lot of patience and endurance.
The 68-year-old star, who commands a cult following among millions of his fans among Tamil-speaking population across the world, could have replaced the engine of cinema with politics in 1996 when the entire Tamil Nadu was looking for an “alternative” following a five-year rule laced with corruption, nepotism and above all flamboyance of worst kind by late J Jayalalithaa.
Twenty-one years later after he missed the clarion call to take charge of the political space in April 1996, the ever-reluctant Rajinikanth has finally swollen the pill - whether it is bitter or sweet is anyone's guess — at a time when his fan base is not as strong as that was two decades back and electorate who appears reluctant to back him.
And in 2017, the Tamil Nadu's political scene is much fragmented with several players - caste parties, Tamil nationalistic outfits and even fringe elements - dotting, making it more difficult for him to ascend throne at Fort St George, the seat of the Tamil Nadu Government. One thing that could go in the star's favour is the young voters' yearning for a change - he could cash in on the “leadership vacuum” but his widely suspected infatuation with the BJP could play the spoilsport.
Political analysts said the main challenge before Rajinikanth was to build the party infrastructure from the scratch and to channel his views on almost every issue. He will come under the scanner on what he says about Tamil Nadu's water wars with neighbours - especially the Cauvery water row with Karnataka, a state where he was born and raised.
Much water has flown under the bridge since 1996 when his television interviews endorsing the then Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Tamil Maanila Congress alliance and his open bashing of Jayalalithaa, calling her “corrupt” catapulted him to the status of Tamil Nadu's king maker. The magical Rajinikanth wave even washed away Jayalalithaa in her Bargur constituency and her arch-rival M. Karunanidhi rode to Fort St. George yet again for the fourth time.
Rajinikanth's invincibility did not last long for his appeal to again vote for the DMK-TMC alliance in 1998 Lok Sabha polls under the shadow of a bomb blast in Coimbatore bombed at the hustings and in 2004, his appeal was washed away in the tsunami that drowned the AIADMK. He had asked his fans to vote out the PMK, with which he had a running battle then, in the polls, but the regional party, which was part of the DMK alliance, managed to win all parliamentary seats that it contested.
Prof Ramu Manivannan, head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Madras, told DC that Rajinikanth has no political work to show and he is entering politics only in the hope that his image as superstar of film industry will alone see him through in politics.
“It is no secret that he enjoys the support of the BJP which is the ruling party at the Centre. He is neither socially nor politically engaged and he is of the hope that his fan club will be translated into political party. I think the actor is challenging himself and now all his films will come under close scrutiny of the people and the civil society,” Manivannan said.
R Kannan, who penned the biographies of Dravi-dian legend C.N. Annadurai and AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran, says Rajinikanth, who was a private person hitherto, faces several challenges. “The huge indulgence that he has enjoyed till now will be put to risk with his personal and professional life coming for close scrutiny,” Kannan said.
Manivannan said Rajinikanth was taking a calculated risk and he will be challenged by many, many people in his pursuit to make it big in politics.
Sivaji V.C. Ganesan, a man who had his political teeth cut in the then fledgling DMK was smitten by Congress leader K Kamaraj’s simplicity and his commitment to probity in public life. Trying to emulate the success scored by his friends – Karunanidhi and MGR – Sivaji Ganesan failed miserably in politics. His political outing was quite brief and his party came a cropper in TN
Rajini can’t emulate MGR, say analysts
Rajinikanth's political entry is a “bold move” as it comes at the “right time” but only time can tell whether he can emulate the stupendous success late M. G. Ramachandran tasted in politics by holding the Chief Minister's chair for three straight terms.
Political analysts and observers are unanimous in their opinion that the star will face several challenges — from translating his fans into his core supporters, maintain his invincibility and to sustain in the hurly-burly of politics. He has always been compared to the late MGR, but some analysts say the comparison was not fair since 1972 and 2017 are quite different.
While welcoming him into politics, they agreed with each other that it would be near impossible for Rajinikanth to emulate his senior in the tinsel town — the legendary M.G. Ramachandran, whose fan base, they say, are an extension of the then ruling DMK. MGR had a hat trick shot at power from 1977 — he launched his AIADMK in 1972 — till his death in 1987.
Prof Ramu Manivannan and MGR's biographer R Kannan agreed that MGR's fans association were an extension of the DMK and the leader was very much part of the DMK and politics when he launched his AIADMK in 1972.
“MGR's fans associations were an extension of the DMK. In addition to feting their hero they also did social work. To an extent they were politically conscious. MGR's film and public career were inextricably interwoven — that his 20,000 fan units could be converted in a single day into the ADMK. Only time can tell if an actor should possess political and societal credentials like MGR in TN,” Kannan said.
And Manivannan also spoke on the same lines. “Rajinikanth cannot be compared to Late MGR in any way because MGR was politically active when he launched the AIADMK in 1972.
His fan club had the backing of the DMK. Only time will tell whether Rajinikanth's invincibility is a bubble or indeed a reality,” he said....