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Rajini can't: Why a political plunge may not be the best idea for Thalaivar

S Murari | Updated on: 17 May 2017, 14:38 IST
(AFP Photo/ Arun Sankar)

Rajinikanth has once again triggered frenzied speculation in the news-hungry media with his cryptic comment that, god willing, he would enter politics. And if, a big if, he does, he would be an honest politician, he has told his fans.

But that is what they all say. Ask Arvind Kejriwal. That was also what MGR promised, a clean administration when he became chief minister.

Fans are not bothered about nuances. They take it as the most positive statement ever made by Rajini ever since he came out against the corrupt, discredited Jayalalithaa in 1996 with his famous statement that if she was voted back to power “not even God can save Tamil Nadu”.

As it gelled with the public mood, she was thrown out of power. And Rajini was given more credit than he deserved for the regime change.

But now he says, he made a mistake in backing the anti-Jayalalithaa coalition of DMK-Tamil Manila Congress as they have exploited his name to make money.

But the truth is far from it. The DMK Government in 1996 under Karunanidhi was clean, as he was voted to power on the anti-corruption plank. And he launched several cases against Jaya and her ministerial colleagues.

When Jaya’s AIADMK aligned with the BJP under Vajpayee in 1998 and joined his government, her sole agenda was to get the cases against her diluted.

When it did not happen, she pulled down the government. To fill in the breach, the DMK went along with the BJP in 1999. Ditched by the DMK, Tamil Manila Congress chief GK Moopanar floated the third front.

Change the game?

Like now, Rajini called a meeting at his Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam. Having been close to both Karunanidhi and Moopanar, he prevaricated, as he usually does in difficult situations.

To put an end to all speculations, he subsequently said that he had no intention of entering politics as he had friends in all parties. As were his fans.

Speaking about the politically-coloured punch lines in his movies, Rajini coolly said he only went by what the script writers had given him to boost the film.

When Jaya returned to power in 2001, Rajani made peace with her. And that is not all. He never went public on critical issues concerning Tamil Nadu, except on two occasions.

One was during the crisis over the Cauvery water sharing with Karnataka. The second was when forest brigand Veerappan kidnapped Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar.

Case 1

When film director Bharathi Raja organised a protest march to Neyveli in a symbolic move to stop power supply to Karnataka if it refused to release Cauvery waters to Tamil Nadu, Rajini stayed away. Nor did he join the subsequent fast by film stars to press for the same demand.

Instead, he went on a separate fast.

At the end of it, he said inter-linking Ganges and the Cauvery or, at least the peninsular rivers, was the only way to end inter-state disputes. And added he would donate Rs 1 crore if the Centre launched the scheme.

When KL Rao proposed the scheme decades ago, the cost was projected to be around Rs 1,000 crore.

But who cares about such details? What mattered was Rajini’s grand gesture for a scheme which he knew would never happen.

Case 2

Veerappan said that he abducted Rajkumar because he was related to one-time Karnataka Chief Minister S Bangarappa. Bangarappa had engineered the riots against Tamils in Bengaluru and Mysuru when the Cauvery tribunal announced its interim award in 1991.

Rajani used emissary and Nakkeeran editor R Gopal to try and persuade Veerappan to release the star unharmed.

Tamil militant outfits like the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army and the Tamil National Retrieval Force, which had joined hands with Veerappan at that time, said that Rajini who never condemned the anti-Tamil riots, was oozing with concern when Rajkumar was abducted because he was interested in protecting his investments in Karnataka.

“Tamils, like fools, worship his cutouts and offer milk and beers as if he is a demi-god,” the outfits said in posters they put up in several towns.

Faced with stringent criticism like this, Rajini came out with a candid statement that he was facing an identity crisis. He said:

“In Bengaluru, I am seen as Shivaji Rao, a Maharashtrian. In Bombay, I am dismissed as a Madrasi. In Tamil Nadu, I am dubbed a Kannadiga.”

Star power

Given the adulation popular film stars get in Tamil Nadu, a perception has gained ground that Tamils are star-crazy and go to any extents for them. And they cite the phenomenal success of MGR and Jaya in this regard.

Let's face it. There can be only one MGR. And he reached the peak of his popularity after over 50 years

in the film world and an equally long association first with the DMK and then as head of his own outfit, the AIADMK.

Initially, the DMK cadre formed the core of his fans. Soon MGR outgrew the party. The then party president, CN Annadurai exploited his mass appeal to his advantage. But Karunanidhi felt threatened and forced MGR out of the party, leading to the birth of AIADMK.

MGR felt the full brunt of Karunanidhi’s repression during the initial years of AIADMK. MGR owed his popularity to his acts of charity, which were legendary. He truly loved the poor. Jaya, who succeeded him, however, did not continue to empathise with the poor through her tenure.

Jaya only made a mark because she was mentored by MGR. Even then, it took her eight years since she was made propaganda secretary of AIADMK in 1983, to come to power.

The only other star who matched MGR’s popularity was NTR. But his stint in politics proved to be short-lived, and was ended by his own son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu.

Rajini may be as popular as MGR and NTR. But he has no such pretensions about being pro-poor as MGR was – which was the reason for his endearing popularity.

Even if he does, his level-headed wife Latha won’t let him have such notions. The school she runs, the Shishya, is elitist and is for the rich. Rajini has never donated for a single public cause so far.

Twenty years ago, Tughlaq editor Cho S Ramaswamy tried his best to persuade Rajini to enter politics. But in vain. Now his friend and RSS member S Gurumurthi is at it.

The grand plan in the works is to make Rajini come out in support of the BJP ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. It took 20 years for Rajini to form even a nebulous idea about whether or not to enter politics.

But at 66, it is rather late in the day for him to take a call. Even if he does enter politics, it won’t make a big difference.

A prime example of why it won't make a difference is Vijayakanth. Sixteen years after forming his party DMDK, he is neither here nor there.

Rajini is just not cut out for the rough and tumble of politics even if god wills it.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 17 May 2017, 13:55 IST