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Why Rajinikanth’s entry into politics is not exciting news

In the past, Superstar Rajinikanth has never missed an opportunity to procrastinate his entry into politics. So, this time let’s not get excited, and wait till he launches a party and takes the plunge

December 05, 2020 / 10:10 AM IST
Actor turned politician Rajinikanth cast his vote at the polling station in Stella Maris College in Chennai Central parliamentary constituency, Tamil Nadu. (Image: Twitter/@ANI)

Actor turned politician Rajinikanth cast his vote at the polling station in Stella Maris College in Chennai Central parliamentary constituency, Tamil Nadu. (Image: Twitter/@ANI)

We’ve all had at some point a song or two that we just can’t get out of our head; these catchy tunes or songs are called earworms. They are pleasantly annoying. Many of the songs in Tamil actor Rajinikanth’s films are earworms. Incidentally, on December 3 the actor announced that he would be forming a political party and contesting the 2021 Tamil Nadu assembly polls to ‘change the fate of Tamil Nadu’. As much as I enjoy his films, Rajinikanth’s latest announcement sounds like a broken record.

In the past, Rajinikanth has never missed an opportunity to procrastinate his entry into politics. So, this time let’s not get excited, and wait till he launches a party and takes the plunge.

The Superstar, as he is referred to by his fans, has been hinting and making political statements that give the impression that he would be joining mainstream politics for more than two decades now. Given this, one is not sure whether to feel happy that he has finally and clearly announced his entry into politics, or wait till December 31, when he will be announcing his outfit’s name and giving more information about his political roadmap to the polls.

In the mid-90s, probably at the zenith of his stardom, he is credited to have swayed the assembly polls in favour of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) by his famous quip that ‘even god cannot save Tamil Nadu’ if Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK is voted back to power. But that was then, and he continued as a bystander to state politics.

Rajinikanth gives the impression of an actor who, because of the weight of expectation on his shoulders from his huge fan base and because there is a rich precedent in Tamil Nadu of popular actors turning politicians, is being dragged into politics.

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On December 31, 2017, he formally announced that he would be entering politics, and since then has been sending mixed messages to his fans. He decided to sit out of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and in March had expressed doubts about his political entry and said he would not be a chief ministerial candidate. He appears to be a reluctant politician. A leader who appears reluctant and does not exuberate confidence will not inspire the electorate — ask Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

This is not to say that Rajinikanth’s political entry will be a flop or is doomed to fail. There are a lot of factors that will determine the fate of Rajinikanth the politician.

The argument that Rajinikanth has the highest number of fan clubs (more than 50,000) in Tamil Nadu and those could convert into votes is a specious one. By that logic Rajinikanth should not have had a flop film in his career — and yet there are many, including his last film Darbar that remind us the connection between popularity and success is a tricky one.

If cinema loving audience prefer good content, and do not think twice before ditching bad content, the same would apply when they choose a politician/party.

Make no mistake that Rajinikanth is still popular in Tamil Nadu; but silver screen stardom is not enough in politics — ask Kamal Haasan, who has launched his political outfit in 2018. Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) contested all 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu in 2019 and all its candidates lost their deposit. Its polling percentage was less than one.

Much will depend on the team Rajinikanth chooses, and how he builds the party. Fellow actor-turned politician Vijayakanth launched the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) in 2005, and in the 2006 assembly polls won about 10 percent of the vote share. In 2011 the DMDK won 29 seats and even became the main opposition party in the assembly. However, Vijayakanth failed to build his party, and in the 2016 elections the DMDK’s vote share fell below 3 percent. If Rajinikanth fails to rope in other leaders who inspire confidence, his party could go the DMDK way.

Much will also depend on the ideology Rajinikanth chooses to form his party. He has said that his politics will be ‘spiritual politics’ — while it is esoteric and there is a mystique to it, both qualities are ephemeral in the heat and dust of Indian hustings. Nothing short of a clear and forward-looking vision will help. If he comes with tall promises and superficial plans he’ll be mimicking the existing political parties. Also, for punchy dialogues, there’s cinema.

Lastly is the age factor. On December 12, Rajinikanth will turn 70 years. He is not in the pink of his health, especially after a kidney transplant in 2016. One is not sure how Tamil Nadu, a state that has a predominantly young population, will react to a septuagenarian greenhorn politician as their leader. Would younger actors such as Khushbhu Sundar, who is already in active politics, or Vijay or Suriya, have a better chance?

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Viju Cherian is Opinion Editor at Moneycontrol. He writes on politics and policy, and hosts Political Bazaar.

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