The hero arrives

| Updated on January 08, 2018

Rajinikanth’s plunge into politics is a defining moment for Tamil Nadu and may signal the end of an era dominated by Dravidian parties

It was a movie long in the making and the timing of its eventual release appears perfect. The announcement by Tamil superstar Rajinikanth brings to an end the ‘will he, won’t he’ suspense over his entry into politics . And it continues the hoary tradition of Tamil Nadu where politics has been the last refuge of actors and those connected with filmdom. Cinema has been an inseparable part of Dravidian politics that has held sway in the State for the last five decades. The four chief ministers that the Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK, have produced starting from the late sixties — CN Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa — have all been either popular actors or scriptwriters. And this is not to forget other, relatively less successful actor-politicians such as Vijayakanth. Rajinikanth is the latest in this celebrated line-up.

That said, there is one big difference between Rajinikanth and the rest and that is the brand of politics that the superstar has said he will practice. If rationalism, atheism and caste-based mobilisation were the bedrock of Dravidian politics, Rajinikanth has promised a “spiritual” brand of politics, beyond caste and religion. His entry is perfectly timed, befitting a hero. With the charismatic Jayalalithaa passing away last year and the consummate politician, Kalaignar Karunanidhi, falling ill and exiting active politics, there is a huge vacuum in the political scene in the State. And Rajinikanth is aiming to fill that.

Whether he will succeed depends on several factors. The speculation that he could be nearer to the BJP in political philosophy is not unfounded and it is a huge change for Tamil Nadu to have a leader who is not afraid to profess his faith in God or in religion. There has been an upsurge in religious revivalism in the State in recent years. There is also a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the quality of governance in the State, both of which augur well for his entry. Nepotism, corruption and poor governance have been defining features of governments in recent years, irrespective of political affiliation. Though both the DMK and AIADMK started off ushering in social equality and uplift, somewhere down the line their politics degenerated into caste-based mobilisation, to the extent that Dalits were excluded from the mainstream discourse, forcing them to form their own parties. For a people tired of ‘politics as usual’, Rajinikanth may offer hope, which explains the welcome that his announcement has received across sections of society. Yet, such hopes should be coated with reality for Rajinikanth will be up against an entrenched political culture and organised parties fighting for their survival. While the existing parties have a strong organisational structure and loyal workers at their core, it remains to be seen whether Rajinikanth’s legions of fans will transform into the kind of cadre needed to actually win elections.

Published on January 01, 2018

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