Thalaivar’s New Avatar

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By 2018-01-15

By Colonel R Hariharan

The two-decade-long wait of thousands of Tamil cinema's superstar Rajinikanth's fans ended on New Year eve when he announced that his entry into politics is certain. To the roaring approval of thousands of fans attending the six-day interaction with the Thalaivar (as they lovingly call him), he added, "I will form my own political party and contest all 234 seats at the next Assembly election."

As the news spread, Tamil Nadu's political parties went into a tizzy. They have strong reasons to worry – because many of their youthful party cadres were also members of Rajini fan clubs across the State. Responding to their Thalaivar's call, there is a fear that they may shed their party affiliations to join his party.

Officially, there were 50,000 registered Rajini fan clubs in the State in 1995-96, when registrations were stopped. Incidentally, there is a fan club in far-off Tokyo! According to a media estimate, now there are 80,000 fan clubs in all. In his speech, Rajinikanth said "I have several thousand fan clubs, in villages and cities all across the state. The unregistered ones are twice as many." Rajinikanth said that uniting them all would be the first task. Moreover, there are thousands of fans in all age groups outside the fan clubs also. It is these formidable numbers that worries the political parties.


Rajini's entry could not have come at a more inconvenient time for political leaders as Tamil Nadu politics is in disarray. The ruling AIADMK's EPS-OPS leadership is locked in a power struggle with the challenger TTV Dhinakaran, after his resounding victory at the RK Nagar by-election. Soon after his victory, he has vowed to "sort out" the present AIADMK leadership. He is the visible face of the Mannargudi 'gang" of Sasikala, which provided the muscle for the late Chief Minister Jayalalitha to rule the party with an iron fist. Thus leadership shake-up in the AIADMK looks imminent.

The DMK, cut down to size in the RK Nagar polls, is sulking, while other smaller players, who piggy back on one of the two dominant Dravidian parties, are in a tailspin. All the political parties, barring TTV Dhinakaaran faction, are certain that the RK Nagar election has institutionalized corruption in the state.

In this murky political scenario of sleaze and corruption, governance has taken a nosedive. Tamil Nadu, once considered as one of the most advanced state, is now a dismal 14th in national ranking. So, common man is able to identify himself with Rajinikanth when he said "the last year events in the state politics have shamed people of Tamil Nadu. The government has to be changed, system has to be changed." He was humble enough to acknowledge that it would not be easy to do this and appealed for trust and support from the people.

Other leaders have either welcomed the superstar's decision to enter politics or been cautious depending on the shade of their party colours, ranging from saffron, blue, red and green. The AIADMK predicted Rajini would fail in his new avatar, while TTV Dhinakaran and the DMK welcomed the move. The Congress expressed doubts about his ability to succeed without the organizational backing of an established political party.


Ultra-Dravidian fringe leaders sporting black shirts picked on Rajinikanth for opening his speech with a quote from Bhagavad Gita to brand him a saffron leader. However, Rajinikanth has made it clear he would not join any political party. Though BJP is not sure of Rajini's support, the party's state chief Tamilisai Soundararajan praised him for his aim to eradicate corruption in Tamil Nadu, as it resonates with the call of the BJP in the state. Caste-based parties of the state had always opposed film actors' entry into politics, so it was no surprise they suspected BJP's hand in Rajini's decision. The irrepressible Subramanian Swamy of BJP did not disappoint – he called Rajinikanth an illiterate. He said, "What will he tell us? Rajini is an uneducated man." The MP called Rajini's entry into politics a joke.

Tamil Nadu is no stranger to actors morphing into political leaders. In fact, the Dravidian parties have had close umbilical links with film industry.

(The writer is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and International Law and Strategic Studies Institute.)

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