Does Rajini have the breathing space he needs?
It would appear that the biggest New Year’s party this year is the party that Rajini said on New Year’s Day he would launch some time later this year.
It is entirely possible that this will, indeed, happen. On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that, on further consideration, Rajinikanth might decide that it is better to travel than to arrive.
He has ruled out the possibility of his new party making its debut in the unconscionably long-delayed but apparently imminent local body elections that will perhaps be held in the first or second quarter of the coming year. That would have been an opportunity for Rajini to test the level of his grassroots electoral support — but Rajini has ruled that out on the eminently understandable ground that he does not have time enough to prepare for the panchayat/municipality polls.
But assembly polls cannot be far behind. With TTV Dhinakaran’s runaway victory in the RK Nagar by-election, TTV stands anointed (along with Sasikala, his jailed relative) as Jayalalithaa’s proven political successor.
The current wholly opportunistic coalition government of Sasikala’s opponents, EPS and OPS, sustained only by the BJP-backed machinations of the speaker of the Tamil Nadu assembly in arbitrarily dismissing 18 AIADMK MLAs who might have voted against the EPS/OPS combo, is not going to last a day beyond the assembly being called into session.
So, does Rajini, in fact, have the breathing space he thinks he needs between launching his new outfit and preparing it for the assembly polls? And should he contest the assembly polls, where would he be when the Lok Sabha elections come around? “I will then decide,” says he.
But what if the Lok Sabha and assembly elections are clubbed together? That is a distinct possibility, particularly if the BJP were to lose the Karnataka polls scheduled for April/May. For with the BJP bastion in central India — Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — the BJP would be seriously threatened.
The internal BJP argument could then be that BJP chief ministers Shivraj Chauhan and Raman Singh could only survive if Modi-Shah were in the fray. What better way of ensuring this than clubbing together the general and state elections?
The fall-out in Tamil Nadu of such an eventuality would be that Rajini may not be able to postpone his decision on participating in the Lok Sabha elections. So, will he, won’t he — the theme of Rajini’s political forays — continues to be the running theme of his political life. The flick of a cigarette that determines the outcome of the storyline is reserved for his films.
He may be a ‘good friend’ of Modi’s, but Thalaivar is also a good friend of all of India. That is why his entry into politics has been universally welcomed
I am, therefore, tempted to guess that Rajini’s much-postponed announcement of launching a still-nameless party, and that too in due course, has less to do with his needing time to launch his party than anxiety as to whether, indeed, the political scenario in Tamil Nadu has changed enough for his first stab at electoral politics to not, also, turn out to be his last.
That would be a conundrum for Rajini to sort out on his own, were it not for the BJP champing at the bit off-stage. Because Rajini has called for a “spiritual” politics, the BJP is falling over itself proclaiming, “we are spiritual.” The problem is that “Thalaivar” Rajini knows the BJP is not in the least “spiritual,” it is just sectarian.
Thalaivar can also count. He knows that the votes cast for the BJP candidate in the RK Nagar by-poll were less than votes cast for NOTA! He further knows that the BJP is dedicated to reversing Indira Gandhi’s three-language formula that quelled the language riots of 1965.
Fifty years later, Tamils still want Tamil; they don’t even want All-India Radio’s Hindi news (banned since half a century from broadcast in the state); and if they love Bollywood films, that is because they love to be entertained, not because they are held in thrall by the Hindi-wallahs.
Moreover, Rajini’s spirituality is eclectic. He holds to his faith devoutly — like Mahatma Gandhi — but his spirituality embraces all religious teachings. Between Rajini’s spirituality and the BJP’s Hindutva yawns a Rift Valley that all of Modi’s blandishments cannot narrow.
Where Modi cannot find a single Muslim candidate to field in an election anywhere in the land, Rajini has lakhs upon lakhs, indeed crores of Muslim fans and Christian fans. They could not, would not, turn into his political supporters if Rajini were to become a supporting actor in a Hindutva screenplay.
The chances are remote of Rajini teaming up with the BJP. He may be a “good friend” of Modi’s, as Modi claims, but Thalaivar is also a good friend of all of India. That is why his entry into politics has been universally welcomed, by everyone. The DMK’s MK Stalin has commented, “I congratulate Rajinikanth,” but he has also added in the next sentence, “however, his entry will not have any kind of impact, positive or negative, on our fortunes.”
In other words, it is early days yet. If there is a precedent, it would be Arvind Kejriwal. He took Delhi by storm, winning 67 out of 70 seats on his platform of “India Against Corruption.” That is also Rajinikanth’s platform.
Yet, the real father of the anti-corruption movement in Delhi (it did not take off anywhere else) was Anna Hazare, who distanced himself from Kejriwal when Kejriwal stepped into party politics.
Rajini, however, is Hazare and Kejriwal rolled into one. Will that give him the clout to turn the tables on the Dravidian parties as Kejriwal briefly succeeded in doing in Delhi with the BJP and the Congress?
That depends on how revolted voters in Tamil Nadu are by the pervasive corruption around them. Hardly at all would appear to be the answer going by TTV Dhinakran’s massive win in Jayalalithaa’s former constituency, despite having just emerged from detention to plunge into the electoral fray, and with his close relative, Sasikala, still doing time in Bengaluru jail. The “Mannargudi Mafia” are still very much in evidence. Prison sentences can’t put them down — at least in the eyes of their adoring followers.
True, Rajinikanth made a triumphal political debut when he took on Jayalalithaa, when, in 1996, he became the moral voice in denouncing JJ’s venality. But that was the same Jayalalithaa who bounced back within a year to re-claim the crown.
Rajini retreated into political sanyas while JJ continued her merry ways. She died in hospital rather than in jail only because the Supreme Court so long withheld their verdict that she passed on before the court spoke and thus went beyond the pale of the law. Dhinakaran and Sasikala are her true heirs in every sense of the term.
If the Anna movement caught fire nowhere but in Delhi-NCR, one can only conclude sadly that the Indian voter loves a financial scandal on the TV screen but has other priorities when it comes to pressing the EVM button.
All bets are, therefore, off on Thalaivar’s political prospects till he actually launches a party, gives it a name, procures a symbol, and endows it with a manifesto.
The French have a saying, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose — the more things change, the more they remain the same. N’est-ce pas? Is that not so?
Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. This article previously appeared on ndtv.com. Reprinted by special arrangement.