Opinion Op Ed 11 Nov 2019 No vacuum in ‘ ...
The writer is director of the Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, a leading Indian think tank. Email: sathiyam54@gmail.com.

No vacuum in ‘Dravidian’ TN for Rajini to fill

Published Nov 11, 2019, 1:08 am IST
Updated Nov 11, 2019, 1:08 am IST
The BJP once again lost even more badly than in 2014 even while putting up a bigger show at the national level than already.
Rajinikanth.
 Rajinikanth.

Notwithstanding periodic expectations, anticipation or mere speculation to the contrary, both at the regional or national levels, there just seems to be no political vacuum in “Dravidian” Tamil Nadu; there is certainly no political vacuum for yet another filmi personality like “superstar” Rajinikanth to fill. If nothing else, the parliamentary polls of April, which the ruling AIADMK, in the company of national counterpart BJP, lost very badly, followed by by-elections to two Assembly seats that the ruling party retained against the earlier DMK rival’s onslaught has proved as much.

The question of a political vacuum in the state, which sends a substantial number of 39 Lok Sabha members, has kept cropping up over the past many decades because the national polity has seen Tamil Nadu giving the electoral victor most if not all the seats — and with huge margins. In an era of questionable political stability at the Centre, commencing with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi splitting her Congress Party as far back as 1969, Tamil Nadu has become a challenging and attractive electoral proposition for all those aspiring to capture power in “distant” Delhi.

 

It was no different in the case of the BJP and the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in his first national-level poll outing in 2014, when a perception was sought to be created that Tamil Nadu was ready to do without “competitive Dravidian” politics. The BJP-led combine lost badly to AIADMK chief minister Jayalalithaa’s battle-cry, “Modi-ya, Lady-ya?”. Five years down the line in 2019, the ruling party in the state lost equally badly to the forgotten DMK parent-led combine in which the Congress was a part, equally massively. The BJP once again lost even more badly than in 2014 even while putting up a bigger show at the national level than already.

It is in this context, the question of a political vacuum in the state has been cropping up even more frequently, what with the death of chief minister Jayalalithaa and DMK predecessor, the nonagenarian Muthuvel Karunanidhi, between the two elections — and to natural causes. However, what elections 2019 has proved is that there was no political vacuum of the kind as speculated.

In context, the DMK’s M.K. Stalin comfortably slipped into the shoes of his late father. The ruling AIADMK was still uncomfortably poised to take the party leadership to non-charismatic leadership of chief minister Ediappadi K. Palaniswami’s variety, in the place of the most charismatic party founder, the late M.G. Ramachandran, followed by his identified political successor in Jayalalithaa — both of them film actors.

If anything, an impression has gained ground that the AIADMK alliance’s heavy losses owed to partnering with “Hindutva” BJP, though that was not the sole reason. In comparison, the AIADMK wrested the Vikravandi and Nanguneri Assembly seats, located in the northern and southern regions, respectively, in November, from the rival DMK combine, and by equally impressive margins. The BJP was still an ally of the AIADMK, but the latter handled most of the poll campaign on its own, or in the company of regional allies like the PMK in Vikravandi, with its strong Vanniar community vote-base.

Confusing signals: The revival of the “vacuum” debate in TN owes to none other than Rajinikanth, whom his ageing fans and peripheral “anti-Dravidian” forces hope is the only person capable of challenging and replacing the status quo. More than the traditional BJP-RSS cadres, it is possibly the anti-Dravidian periphery that has been at promoting Rajinikanth, until possibly the former class picked up the threads in the aftermath of the LS poll defeat.

Appearing before the media outside his “Poes Garden” residence in state capital Chennai (the same locality made famous by another resident in the late Jayalalithaa), that too twice in two hours, the “superstar” sent out confusing signals in the name of clarifying his position on contemporary issues. His two public statements were in the nature of those that he had issued in the post-Jaya/post-Karunanidhi years (since 2016-17), when he left as much unsaid as said, leaving it all to evening TV talk-show “experts” to decipher.

The problem is that in Dravidian Tamil Nadu, political leaders have not left nothing they said to speculation and interpretation, though those like MGR had a convoluted way of putting it across. Against this, those like the late G.K. Moopanar, could not go far beyond in personalised politics, when they said little in their public appearances, that too in an era of television journalism.

In the first media meet of Friday, November 8, Rajinikanth said that attempts to “saffronise” him would fail like those to “saffronise” ancient Tamil poet-savant Thirruvalluvar. When the anti-BJP, anti-AIADMK polity was praising him for distancing himself from the BJP, Rajinikanth met the media again, to clarify that it was the media that was seeking to politicise the “Thiruvalluvar row”, and was seeking to identify him with the BJP.

It was now the state BJP’s turn to hail the superstar for clarification. The party, which is yet to find a state president, in the place of Tamizhisai Soundararajan, who became Telangana governor after the LS poll debacle, reiterated Rajini’s earlier declaration that there was no invitation for him from the BJP. They also said that like with the DMK and the AIADMK, they may consider aligning with Rajinikanth, if and when he launched his promised party — but there was none right now.

‘Darbar’ show: Rajini’s public statements at the moment gets added significance in the light of the impending release of his next movie, Darbar, directed by ace storyteller, A.R. Murugadoss. The film is due for a mid-January Pongal release, and social media critics have already said that his political statements are in line with those that he had made whenever earlier films of his were due to hit the screens — a linkage that they have made dating back to the 1990s, starting with maiden home-production Valli (1993).

Truth be told, Rajinikath only added fuel to the speculation fire on his political entry by declaring that he would enter direct electoral politics and on his own for the Assembly polls, due by May 2021. His team is also said to have been busy creating lower-level organisational structures, as declared by him when he announced his political intention on New Year’s Eve 2017. No politics for him and his fans until 2021, was his resolution at the time — to which he at least seems sticking too, but on his term and time of his choosing.

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