- NL Sena
Can the Modi-Rajini combo set the Marina on fire? Or is Rajini just having us on?
The Bharatiya Janata Party will join Rajinikanth soon, is a popular Whatsapp joke doing the rounds. One of the many Chuck Norris-inspired chucklers that seek to elevate the Superstar to verra (another) level, where if he indeed joins politics, he will not seek votes. Votes will seek Rajini!
But is this hype and chatter rooted in reality? Is this larger-than-life demi-God of Kollywood indeed the stuff that political dream debuts are made of? A 70-mm legend who has done it before in T20 fashion is NT Rama Rao in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. NTR launched his party in 1982 and in eight months, the maverick actor who played the roles of Rama and Krishna on the big screen, was lording over Andhra. Rajini has to do an NTR in Tamil Nadu. Anything less will be unRajinikanth-esque.
As far as his fans are concerned, it is not a question of whether Rajini can or Rajini-kanth. They, half-jest, half-seriously point to his politically-loaded dialogue in Muthu in 1995 where he said, “naan eppo varuven, eppadi varuvennu yarukkum theriyathu. Aana varuvendiya neratale correct aa varuven”.’ (No one knows when and how I will come, but when it is the time to come, I will come in the correct manner)
But scripted filmy bravado designed to flirt with the audience aside, it would seem 2017 is just the right time for Rajini to sign in for a political role. Jayalalithaa’s demise and Karunanidhi’s absence from Tamil Nadu’s political amphitheatre has opened up a slot and those who are batting for the actor say power, whenever elections are next held in the state, is up for grabs.
Although Rajini has maintained good relations with both Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, barring 1996 when he spoke out against Jayalalithaa, it is unlikely that he will have truck with either of the two mainline Dravidian parties. On the other hand, he has been on the same page as the BJP on occasions in the past, prompting Narendra Modi, then as the National Democratic Alliance prime ministerial candidate to visit him at his Chennai home, dressed in a veshti. This Modi-Rajini combo’s ammunition – both sartorial and polemical – is what the BJP would hope can set the Marina on fire.
For the BJP which lacks a tall leader in Tamil Nadu, getting Rajini to sign on the dotted line would be the ultimate political casting coup. Its leaders both in Chennai and in New Delhi, have been making suitable noises for some time now that the actor would be more than welcome to be part of the saffron unit, should he decide on a career move. Behind the scenes, the BJP has expressed its enthusiasm for Rajinikanth much more aggressively, which makes one suspect if a scripted drama is being played out over the past one week.
Was Rajini’s photo session with his fans and media interactions simply an attempt to shed the image of a recluse that he has cultivated over the years? Or was it a screen test before God, to whom he has given the power of attorney to decide on whether to be or not to be?
Sources say the BJP leadership feels that a Rajini-led BJP would make political rivals feel the 2008 superhit Sivaji punchline, “pera kettale chumma adhirudhullai” effect (doesn’t everything quake at the mere mention on my name?) It will give the party a 12-15 per cent jump in vote-share, up from the measly 2.8 per cent it got in the assembly elections last year. Along with Rajini, if the BJP ties up with the AIADMK, it can form a formidable front which will also gain from the regional outfit’s cadre in the districts.
But then, intelligent Math does not always translate into sensible Chemistry.
1. Unlike in the cowbelt, the BJP is a fringe political player in Tamil Nadu even though it would seem it is now calling the shots in Chennai thanks to a weakened AIADMK. Sources close to the actor feel the BJP tag will be a negative factor. The Dravidian mind-set of Tamil Nadu, its anti-Hindi position in the past will make it difficult for the voters to accept the BJP in an overwhelming manner as it is seen essentially as a Hindi heartland party. It is to be noted that at the height of the Modi wave in India, Jayalalithaa won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
2. 2017 is not the 70s or the 80s, when MG Ramachandran and NTR switched gears. While BJP has everything to gain from a Rajini embrace, the actor is staking everything with too much of a risk element. The BJP at least will win a few Lok Sabha (it has one MP now) and assembly (it has no presence in the Tamil Nadu legislature) seats, but for Rajini nothing less than the Chief Ministerial chair will do. Can he be a finisher as good as a MS Dhoni? And does he really need to do this?
3. His health remains a concern. At 66, he is not getting any younger and he has been hospitalised in the recent past.
4. He has no administrative experience and little exposure to issues facing the state. Would Tamil Nadu be comfortable handing over the state’s reins to a political novice, which could end up in unelected hangers-on wielding the real power? But then this is a state that has seen MGR winning an election from a hospital bed in the United States of America and the government running on auto pilot mode when Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. They may indulge their favourite hero learning on the job.
5. Even though Rajinikanth has taken pains to emphasise his Tamizh credentials, his Karnataka roots will be his Achilles heel. The fact that he brought up the issue of being more “pacha Tamizhan”’ (pure Tamil) than Kannadiga was a giveaway to his political plans, but given the annual angst over Cauvery that the two states go through, Rajinikanth will be expected to wear his loyalty to Tamil Nadu on his sleeve. The flip side is that he could also play a statesman-like role in finding a permanent solution to the water dispute.
No one knows what is on Rajinikanth’s mind, but he could exercise the option of floating his own party to enter into an alliance with the BJP, a la Pawan Kalyan in Andhra in 2014. Of course, it is for him to decide whether like Pawan, he stays out of electoral politics or gets into it to get his hands dirty.
For over two decades, Rajinikanth has kept the suspense over his political entry alive. The jury is out on whether he will fall for the glamour of political power or will it be like the story of the boy who cried wolf? This may well be the best political suspense drama that Rajini has starred in.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @Iamtssudhir